Parenting a child with mental health challenges or special needs is never easy, but it helps when you can connect with the right resources and talk to others going through similar challenges. That’s what brought six dads from JCCA’s Family Resource Center together with the First Lady of NYC, Chirlane McCray, on a warm September night in Brooklyn.
As the dads introduced themselves, Ms. McCray seamlessly entered the conversation about the challenges of parenting kids with mental health issues. She shared her own story—her daughter’s struggle with depression, anxiety and substance abuse, and how difficult it was to help. “I didn’t know what to do, who to call or trust…It was really, really hard.” Finding the right resources and navigating the mental health infrastructure of the city was difficult. This is why she helped launch ThriveNYC, an initiative that creates mental health support in schools and community centers via partnerships with 54 city nonprofits.
For their part, the dads shared their own successes. JCCA’s Waiver Program provides therapy and respite care for their children, and they feel supported as parents. One father stated unequivocally, “The minute I walked through [JCCA’s] door, it was easy.” Another added that JCCA “supports you 100%. It has been great.” The participants are very attached to the group facilitator, Daryll Hudson, who guides their sessions with aplomb. Pedro, a dad whose tone radiates warmth and calm, wants to help others. “I want to stay on the road of being a better father and still be able to help my brothers,” he said before asking to become a ThriveNYC peer counselor. “You seem like you would be great at it,” McCray agreed, and encouraged him to apply.
What resonated the most for the participants was knowing that their struggles are shared by people like Ms. McCray. “Being a responsible parent is the hardest thing I ever did,” said Pedro, “but it’s good they know they can rely on you.” The fathers are proud of their role in their children’s lives. “It’s never over,” someone else added, “but that keeps you alive!” Ms. McCray concurred. “What my daughter says is, ‘Progress, not perfection.’ We are still on that journey.”
As the meeting broke up and people clamored for selfies or a hug from the First Lady, those words echoed around the room. “Progress, not perfection. I’m going to take that home with me.”