George Pinckney had hit rock bottom. Incarcerated in Cayuga County, he faced charges of substance abuse and also had lost custody of his son.
“It jolted me into reality,” the Auburn native said. “I didn’t want to lose my son.”
Gripped by a 20-year addiction to drugs and alcohol, Pinckney sobered up in jail. A visit from a county Drug Court official proved to be his last resort.
“Drug Court saved my life,” Pinckney admitted. “I was so scared. I just wanted help.”
He entered a mandated drug-rehabilitation program in Bath and, after being released, voluntarily participated in the supportive-living program at Grace House, a halfway house for men with addictions. Toward the end of his treatment he had regained visitation with his son, yet he knew he wanted to be a better father to 4-year-old Dillon Michael. He asked counselors at Grace House where he could learn how to be a better parent, and they referred him to the Maternity and Early Childhood Parenting Program offered through Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
The educational program, which began more than 20 years ago, assists 18 to 25 families annually. Most of the interaction takes place in the client’s home, where a caseworker spends time going over books and exercises designed to teach good parenting skills. The curriculum varies based on the situation, but generally covers parenting from prenatal to early childhood care. In addition, through observation and discussion, the parents gain valuable experience in raising their children.
Parents may be referred to the program from a drug-treatment agency, Child Protective Services, Cayuga County courts or MOMS, a county-sponsored nursing program.
The program has an annual budget of just $35,000, with funding derived from the United Way, the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation as well as the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal.
“We found that many single parents need additional support to raise children,” said Laurie Trojnor, director for the Cayuga County office of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes. “We try to break the cycle that brought them to us in the first place, whether that’s violence or drug addiction or whatever. We try to focus on their strengths and then work with them to develop the areas that aren’t as strong.”
Nancy Annibale has been the program’s caseworker since 1984. In addition to her direct responsibilities in educating parents, she also networks with area social-service agencies when families need food, clothing or household items. In the case of emergencies, she works on obtaining payment for bills or prescriptions. Annibale stresses that the program provides a holistic approach to families.
“Providing education and the coping skills to parents is so important,” Annibale said. “This is more than just a class. It involves a child’s life. You are preparing children for life, and if you can’t get along yourself, how will your child get along?”
In Pinckney’s case, Annibale helped him develop overall parenting skills.
“I wish I had a million clients like him,” Annibale said. “He was so motivated to just be a good parent. It was wonderful. I can’t say enough about his efforts.”
Clean for more than 18 months, Pinckney concentrated on communicating and learning about his child’s needs. And now he and his son’s mother actively participate together in Dillon’s upbringing.
“Dillon has given me such happiness, and he’s really shown me how to love,” Pinckney said. “I just want him to have a normal life, a family-oriented life. I want him to have good morals and be a good boy.”
So far Pinckney’s efforts have paid off, although he still faces challenges. He suffers from health problems he says were caused by years of drug and alcohol abuse. He is legally blind from diabetes, and he recently underwent treatment for hepatitis C. Despite the health and financial setbacks, he continues to persevere.
“This will be the first Christmas that I’ll be with Dillon since he was born,” he added. “I just want to be there with him. He always says now he has a mommy and daddy. And he shows me off at his day care, saying, ‘This is my daddy.’ As I feel better about being a better father, I feel I’m also a better person, and that is reflected in how I treat others too.”
“I don’t know what I would have done without (Drug Court and the Maternity and Early Childhood Parenting Program),” Pinckney added. “It’s been a lot of hard work, but all of it is worth it for me and my son.”