Lattie Dark had thought he was done having kids. He and his wife had three, and to the stay-at-home dad that seemed like plenty. Then his niece’s four-month-old son Amier came into their lives. His niece hadn’t been doing too well, so as her uncle, Lattie stepped up and took over the job of raising Amier. He’d raised three, figured he could do one more.
It was harder than he’d anticipated. A few years into it, Lattie heard about a block party at a new building he’d seen go up in his Northside neighborhood. Northside is a microcosm of Richmond, Va. – some of the city’s nicest neighborhoods sit side by side with lower middle income areas and large public housing complexes. Forty percent of Northside families live in poverty.
The block party was an outreach event hosted by Partnership for Families, a one-stop-shop of family support services housed in that new building Lattie had noticed. A lifelong resident of Northside, Lattie thought the party looked like something fun to do with Amier on a summer day. So the two of them checked it out.
There was a little train you could ride on. Amier’s eyes got big. “Oh lord,” Lattie laughed, “it’s on now!” Amier got on for a ride and just wanted to keep on riding. In addition to activities for the kids, there were tents set up with tables full of information about non-profits and government agencies and their programs. While Amier rode, Lattie went from tent to tent, collecting brochures, asking questions, and adding his name and phone number to every sign-up sheet he came across. Afterward, he and Amier headed for home, tired and happy. Lattie figured that was it.
Then his phone rang. To his surprise, it was one of the programs whose sign-up sheet he’d put his name on. He hadn’t expected a call back. In the days that followed, every one of those programs called him back. He started attending classes on parenting and early childhood. The instructor told him to bring Amier along – they had childcare available. They’d all eat dinner together, then the kids would go play and the parents would go to class. There, Lattie learned skills that enabled him to be more nurturing and patient. Thinking back on how he’d parented his first three children, he could see now that he’d relied more on aggression. He took that insight and applied it to raising Amier. “It rejuvenated me,” he recalled.
A social worker from Family Lifeline came to the house to consult with Lattie about Amier. She did exercises with the three-year-old to help build his skills, memory, and hand-eye coordination. Lattie learned about children’s events at the library, so he took Amier, exposing him to books and reading. The doctor they were referred to made sure Amier was up on all his immunizations. By the time Amier was old enough to start kindergarten, he was ready. ►