FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Strong communities often start with strong families.
In Fort Pierce, fathers are coming together in a unique way to learn the best ways to be there for their children.
They are learning parenting skills through a basketball program that makes time spent on the court more than just a game.
The Children's Services Council of St. Lucie County for the second year has pulled together a program called ‘More than a Game.’
The program gives men two hours of free open court time to play basketball. In return, they sit in on a 30-minute to one-hour session that focuses on a variety of parenting topics.
For 10 weeks, each week has a specific topic, like male nurturance, fathering without violence, anger or alcohol abuse. Upcoming weeks will also focus on discipline and fun and games, teamwork between parents or co-parenting, and being a father figure even if not a child's biological parent.
Different community organizations partner with the program each week. The Inner Truth Project, Drug-Free St. Lucie, Big Brother Big Sister, Hibiscus Children Center, Treasure Coast Early Steps, and Families of the Treasure Coast are among community partners.
"At the end of the day, it's not just about basketball," said John Cesar with the Children's Services Council of St. Lucie County. "[It's] to have those discussions and create a safe space for those guys to talk and share.”
Cesar said he helped come up with the idea for the program.
"As myself, a young father with a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old, I didn't have a father in my life, so for me it was personal," Cesar said. "I had a lot of father figures, and that's why we did fathers and father figures."
Darrell Alexander has been through the four previous sessions.
"I didn't have my father growing up," Alexander said.
That’s why he's open to all the tips and advice that help him be the best parent to his five children.
"The one thing that I took away personally was just to be able to listen more and sometimes negotiate with your children," Alexander said.
Growing up without a father, he said, motivates him to do more for his children.
"It makes me want to spend more time with the kids and just be there consistently and be a better provider, give them all the things that I didn't have growing up," Alexander said.
So, while basketball gets them in the door, they walk off the court each week with a much more important set of skills, and a team of fellow fathers rallying behind each other.
"I hope they think of me as the greatest dad in the world," Alexander said.
Cesar said at the end of the 10 weeks, the program will also give away prizes to the fathers like basketball goals, St. Lucie Mets game tickets and children's museum tickets to give them more things to do with their children to keep building strong relationships.