The Dovetail Project

Empowering young African American men ages 17-24 to be better fathers to their children and better men in their communities.

The Problem

Becoming a father is always challenging, but when a new father is himself still young—and, in most cases, has little to no relationship with his own father—there is no roadmap for navigating fatherhood. The Dovetail Project aims to provide this missing roadmap for young African American fathers to guide them on their path to fatherhood and interrupt the cycle of fatherlessness.

Dovetail fathers care deeply about being parents—internal entry survey data from 2016 reveal that 100% of participants consider a relationship with their child important—but they all face serious barriers to successful parenting, such as lack of relationships with their own fathers, involvement with the criminal justice system, and scarcity of employment and education opportunities. A recent University of Illinois at Chicago study revealed that 47% of young Black men aged 20-24 in Chicago were out of both work and school in 2014.

If such barriers prevent them from parenting effectively, their children suffer. Children who lack relationships with their fathers are four times more likely to live in poverty (National Center for Fathering). They are at “dramatically greater risk” of abusing drugs and alcohol (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes (Texas Dept. of Corrections); young men who grow up without fathers are twice as likely to become incarcerated (Journal of Research on Adolescence). Studies on father presence, on the other hand, indicate that a father’s active involvement leads to improved outcomes for his children.

The Solution

The Dovetail Project is a curriculum-based fatherhood training program developed by Founder and Executive Director Sheldon Smith. For 12 weeks, cohorts of young fathers are immersed in an intensive curriculum of parenting skills, life skills, job skills and felony street law. Through classroom instruction, peer-to-peer discussions and guest speakers, they address the challenges and opportunities of fatherhood in a rigorous but supportive environment with high expectations and access to resources. The curriculum begins with two, felony street law modules (weeks 1 and 2), continues with financial literacy and job skills (weeks 3, 4, and 5), adds peer-to-peer interaction and manhood (weeks 6 and 7), then focuses on fatherhood roles/rights/responsibilities along with child development and skills practice (weeks 8, 9, 10, and 11).

Fathers receive a bus pass and refreshments at the program, as well as a stipend upon completion. Through partner initiatives, they concurrently enroll in a GED examination or trade program, and/or receive job training through one of Dovetail’s partner employers. They are honored with a graduation ceremony at the end of the program (week 12), and then go on to complete their GED/trade programs and/or receive an employment offer and maintain a strong, supportive presence in their children’s lives.

Dovetail is a catalyst for young men to become the best fathers they can be, and thereby strengthen their families and communities. Previous program data indicates Dovetail graduates spend more time with their children, feel more confident in their abilities, understand their legal rights and responsibilities, and are better prepared for employment and/or continuing education.

Stage of Development

  • Early Stage
  • Established Prototype
  • Scaling
  • Other

Organization to Receive Funds

Shared Nation would fund The International Neighborhood Collaborative, which is the Dovetail Project's home organization.

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