Art Johnson has a passion for helping men to become better dads.
He’s a facilitator with Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s fatherhood programs based at the Sto-Rox Family Center in Stowe.
With the 365 Dads program, he helps fathers with newborns to children aged 5 learn nurturing parenting skills.
“What drove it was I made a lot of the mistakes young men make,” Johnson said.
The father of three, age 74, said, “Iron sharpens iron like it says in the Bible,” meaning the other fathers in the group serve as a resource to one another, teaching each other and being available for advice.
“When they first become fathers, it’s scary,” Johnson said.
Johnson said it’s hard to get men to get together and talk about their feelings because they’re “misinformed” and believe asking for help is a sign of weakness.
That’s what makes this group unique. Johnson has learned positive things from the program and other members, which has improved his relationship with his own son.
“I love that he’s a better father than I was,” Johnson said, adding that he now has the opportunity to do with his grandkids what he didn’t take advantage of enough with his son.
The Office of Child Development and Early Learning, overseen by Pennsylvania’s Department of Education and its Department of Human Services, has recently increased funding for AIU’s fatherhood programing from $30,600 to $310,000, a 913% increase.
The AIU has been offering fatherhood services for more than 25 years according to Program Director, Larry Klinger. With the expanded funding, new classes are starting at the Providence, Steel Valley, McKeesport, and Clairton Family Centers in February, Klinger said.
Days and times will vary based on location and participants' schedules.
“The Man on a Mission is our alumni group that has been around since the beginning of our program,” Klinger said.
The AIU’s fatherhood program, 365 Dads, uses a teaching program called 24/7 Dad®, which is the most widely used fatherhood curriculum in the U.S.
But more than the official curriculum, being able to share knowledge with other fathers of different ages, backgrounds and experiences make the organization a valuable resource to fathers in the community.
The division has hired three facilitators to provide coaching for fathers who want to improve their parenting, economic and child development skills, including facilitator Tyrone Fisher. Fisher had gone through the 24/7 Dad® curriculum two years ago.
“What I got out of this program was insight dealing with situations,” Fisher said.
Seeing issues that come up with parenting laid out in an itemized way helped Fisher cope with having a young child.
He is the dad of a 4-year-old and a 4-month-old.
In addition to being a facilitator, Fisher runs a personal training company called Fit 4 Life, and like a lot of the other fathers in the group, he brings his own expertise to the group.
With Fisher on board as a facilitator, he said the program is expanding to include fitness and other programs to improve the overall health of the fathers.
John Bout, part of the “Man on a Mission” alumni group, said he was born a natural nurturer. He was ready to have kids when they came and was there to pick them up from every school or sports event they had.
“I help some of the newer dads. I can speak to how life-changing it has been to be a dad,” Bout said.
Bout is currently going through a divorce, and he was drawn to the group because it created a supportive community of like-minded people at a time when he really needed one.
Participant Chidozie Oparanozie is 32 and his children are aged 9 and 9 months.
Oparanozie got involved in the group through Johnson, who he met through church and whom he calls “Brother Art.” As he grew up, Oparanozie saw Johnson as a mentor.
Through the group, Oparanozie received help dealing with multiple issues, including taking care of his mental health.
The topic, especially in the Black community, is difficult for men, Oparanozie said.
“Having the opportunity to speak with other men is the therapy,” Oparanozie said.
Oparanozie’s father was Nigerian and his mother hailed from Pittsburgh’s Northside, where he still resides.
His father died when he was very young and is buried in Nigeria.
“A big part of my journey is to see his grave,” said Oparanozie, whose name means “God will make it all well,” in his father’s native language.
In addition to a supportive community, the AIU provides access to a diaper and food bank to supply extra help to dads who may be struggling.
Oparanozie said the additional support makes all the difference, especially for young parents. With his first son, diapers and milk were a constant worry, he said he had no peers to talk about his parenting issues with.
Help with necessities gives fathers the opportunity to provide stability for their children, even during uncertain moments in their lives.
“It helps them take the role of a leader,” Johnson said.
Johnson is hoping the bump in funding and inclusion of new facilitators will help expand the group’s outreach in the community.
“You build a strong family, the community comes next,” Fisher said.
Currently, fatherhood program gatherings are being held at the AIU’s Sto-Rox Family Center, 618 Russellwood Ave., Stowe.
Enrollment can begin at any time.
Program members meet weekly at 6 p.m. on Thursdays with Man on a Mission alumni meetings held on the third Thursday of the month, also at 6 p.m.
For more information call, (412) 394-5955.