Darnell Shakes and Sherri, his wife of eight years, pride themselves on being good parents. The couple has successfully raised two elementary school aged boys and are now in the early stages of parenting their newborn daughter, Maexinj. “It is crucial for every child to have a strong male role model in their lives,” says Darnell. “In my personal experience, your child will get lost in the education system if you don’t stay involved.”
Soon after the birth of Maexinj, Darnell was exposed to a new, family-friendly program located right in his backyard. Center For Family Services’ Promise Neighborhood Family Success Center (PN FSC) opened in the fall of 2012, welcoming the families of Camden to experience free workshops, community resources, family dinners, and a computer lab. Soon enough the Shakes children were frequenting PN FSC, taking part in homework help and after school events. Darnell believed so strongly in their mission that he became the Secretary of their Policy Committee.
“We frequent the Family Success Center. My family feels safe when they are here and the staff treats everyone with so much kindness and respect. My kids walk into 580 Benson Street like it’s their own home, that’s how comfortable they feel here.”
One of the programs offered through PN FSC is Baby’s Best Start. The new initiative, modeled after Harlem Children’s Zone Baby College, works together with the entire family to support getting babies off to the best possible start. The nine-week parenting workshop brings together new and expecting mothers and fathers with their children aged newborn to three.
There are no words to describe Baby’s Best Start. The program is intriguing, enlightening, and educational. I learned about Maexinj’s brain development, the importance of reading to her every single day, and how to effectively discipline my children.
Darnell was approached by PN FSC staff to consider joining the program since his youngest fit the programs age requirements. “Everything about the program interested me,” remembered Darnell. “At first I thought it would be difficult to commit to nine Saturdays in row but once we started coming we were hooked. The staff at Babies Best didn’t act like staff at all. They acted like role models, educators, and parents.”
Over the course of the program parents are required to keep a weekly dairy and are assigned homework each week. “The homework assignments are intense but they help you take what you learned at Baby’s Best Start and incorporate it into your everyday life,” says Darnell. Parents also learn tips on keeping children safe and healthy, information on stages of child development, and receive help getting connected to local resources.
But the program isn’t all serious all the time. “One Saturday we were taught how to incorporate singing and clapping into our child’s daily routine. I do not sing! But it was so funny and cute, the children loved it.”
The Shakes were a part of the first of many graduating classes at Center For Family Services Baby’s Best Start program. “We always knew we were good parents but then we stumbled upon Baby’s Best Start. We went from good to great because of this program.”
Darnell now advocates on behalf of Baby's Best Start and the PN FSC. “I keep telling everyone I see, ‘you need to go to Benson Street and check out Babies Best Start. You need to be a teacher to your child’. My father was present in my life but not entirely involved, I wish he guided me more. I made a vow that I would always be there for my kids. I can pay back my children by guiding them.”