Program helps man be part of daughter's life

June 19, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

On Father's Day a year ago, Brian Pickens' life was at a low point.

The 28-year-old Hagerstown man was unemployed, he had fallen behind on his child support and didn't see his daughter Brittani on a regular basis.

But this Father's Day weekend, Pickens is taking Brittani, 6, camping. It's a special trip, made better by the fact that seeing her is no longer a rare occasion.

In April, Pickens and Brittani's mother, Rhonda Nowell, were able to work out a visitation schedule.

Pickens has a new job, as assistant manager of a clothing store, and has paid the $532 in child support he owed.


For the turnaround, Pickens credits the support of his dad and the help of a budding program of the Washington County Department of Social Services.

The program brings together custodial parents with non-custodial parents, the majority of whom are fathers.

When Access and Visitation Specialist Mercedes Lorduy set up the first meeting between Pickens and Nowell, things were tense.

The relationship, which was cordial immediately after their break-up when Brittani was 2, had deteriorated.

Pickens said he didn't get along very well with Nowell's new boyfriend, Jeff Bachtell.

In the beginning, Pickens felt he had made a lot of concessions.

But in the end, he got more than he bargained for. Brittani now stays with him for two nights a week and every other weekend.

By the end, he and Bachtell even forged an alliance.

"I'm glad he was a part of it. As long as the interest is for the best of the child, it's hard not to meet in the middle," Pickens said.

Sometimes, custodial parents are afraid to allow visitation because they worry it will lead to losing their children.

But once they see that it's in the child's best interest to have a relationship with their father, they willingly give in, Lorduy said.

Pickens said his own father, Terry Pickens of Middletown, Md., has stood behind him throughout the mediation process.

"It really has been a wonderful experience for me," Brian Pickens said.

Lorduy started the county's visitation program in July.

It's part of the Young Fathers program of the Department of Social Services, which has offered a wide array of services to non-custodial parents since 1994.

Pickens also took advantage of the program's help with employment.

On the October day that Pickens walked into the program office at 920 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown, he learned about a job fair at the Eddie Bauer store at Prime Outlets.

After a two-hour interview, he had a job that he enjoys.

But more importantly, he regularly sees the little girl who shares his dimpled cheeks.

Brittani sits on his lap and plays with his tie. It's something Daddy doesn't normally wear, but he had just come from a business meeting in Chevy Chase, Md.

Brittani likes to go to the park and the circus, Pickens said.

He plans to take her fishing soon.

For the Department of Social Services, the Young Fathers program has gotten results, said Assistant Director Carol Springer.

Last year, 81 of the 84 program participants who were ordered to pay child support met their obligations, Springer said.

The $114,000 they paid doubled from the previous year, she said.

As a reward to those non-custodial parents who are paying their child support, Social Services has given away about 800 tickets to today's Hagerstown Suns baseball game.

The "Celebrate Dad's Day at the Suns" tickets were paid for through a combination of private donations and grants.

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