A day for dads: Watsonville PAPÁS event celebrates fathers, father figures


Santa Cruz Sentinel: June 14, 2014

By Terri Morgan

WATSONVILLE >> Fathers and their young children danced and swayed to the music as they circled chairs set up in the La Manzana Courtyard Saturday afternoon.

Despite big stakes — a $25 prize for winning the round of musical chairs — the competition was lighthearted. As each father and child pair found themselves standing when all the others found a seat after the music stopped, they stepped away to cheers and high fives from the audience at the PAPÁS Eighth Annual Father's Day event.

"We had a good time," said Donald Carter of Watsonville with a grin after he and his 4-year-old daughter Daisy May were eliminated in one of the later rounds. "It's been a lot of fun so far."

His daughter was even less fazed by their loss, tugging her dad's hand and leading him to one of the arts and crafts tables set up around the plaza. "I want to make another one," she said while reaching up for a soap bubble floating past her head.

The Carters were among dozens of families at the annual celebration, which included live music, a ring toss, and plenty of activities for children to do with their fathers, mothers and the adults in their extended families.

The White Hawk Dancers performed and blessed the gathering, which also included a barbecue, raffles for prizes and a diaper derby race where fathers competed to see who could feed, diaper and strap their babies in a car seat the fastest.

Members of the group "Bikers Against Child Abuse" brought a large gleaming motorcycle to the event and were taking pictures of kids sitting on the bike as well as giving out free temporary tattoos for youngsters.

"We're here to support PAPÁS and support these fathers who are working to be better fathers," said Thunder, who goes by one name. "We're all about empowering parents."

Dozens of volunteers were on hand to help kids and their adult companions make bracelets, sculpt objects out of magic sand, paint young faces. A small crowd of people gathered around a sketch artist as he created drawings of anyone willing to sit in the modeling chair and endure the jokes and catcalls from the audience.

"This celebration is all about fathers and father figures," said Deutron Kebebew, the PAPÁS program director of the free event. Along with offering plenty of fun activities for fathers, grandfathers, uncles, father figures and mothers to do with their kids, the event helps emphasize how important fathers are in their children's lives.

"This event raises awareness, gets discussions going and gets people to reflect on how they want to move forward" as parents and community members," Kebebew said. "It's a way of bringing the community together in celebration, connecting fathers to other fathers and engaging the community."

Operating under the umbrella of Encompass Community Services, the nonprofit Papas organization offers classes, parent groups and social activities, like the annual father's day celebration, to strengthen the bond between fathers and their children. Such bonds provide life-long benefits, both for families and communities. Research shows that children with a father or father-figure actively participating in their lives do better in school, have healthier levels of self-esteem, exhibit empathy to others and avoid high risk behaviors.

Conversely, children raised in fatherless homes have less success in life, at a high price to society. According to information provided by PAPÁS, 71 percent of high school dropouts, 85 percent of those incarcerated and 63 percent of youth suicides involve people who grew up without involved fathers.

The number of local kids impacted is significant. The organization estimates that 28 percent of children living in Santa Cruz County are being raised in single parent families, and 90 percent of those homes are headed by single mothers.

PAPÁS is especially important in today's world, where most parents are working to provide for their families, and children don't have the freedom to play on their own outdoors under the watchful eyes of neighbors.

"We have to create that village for families to raise kids where they're nurtured, and cared for," Kebebew said.

In the past year, PAPÁS has served more than 700 families with counseling, workshops and Daddy and Me groups. Several of those fathers were honored at the event and received 2014 Fatherhood of the Year awards. The honors, which recognize fathers who have found a balance between family and children's activities, community service and work responsibilities were presented Santa Cruz County Supervisor Greg Caput.

"Our main criteria for naming a winning dad are to find an individual who goes above and beyond his duties as both a dad and community member," said Kebebew.

Two men were named the Father of the Year award. Cipriano Arreola and Jose Guadalupe Martinez shared the top honors, while Alejandro Gonzalez was named Father of the Month.