At 25, Bill has reclaimed his life.
It started to spin out of control 12 years ago. Bill’s father had recently passed away, and the young teen turned to alcohol. His problems eventually multiplied and, by early 2003, Bill found himself fresh out of jail and going through alcohol- and drug-rehabilitation programs. He had fathered two young girls, but did not have custody of them, and could only see them in Syracuse during supervised visits once or twice a month.
Bill, who asked that his last name not be disclosed, said he always loved his daughters, but admits that he wasn’t always there for them. He was too busy drinking, doing drugs and fighting with their mother to give them the love and attention they deserved, he said.
"I was there when they were born, (but) as soon as they were born I was out drinking," Bill added.
Bill gave up drinking on Dec. 12, 2002, and soon began to focus his efforts on improving his relationship with his daughters, who are now 5 and 3. He knew he needed help learning some basic parenting strategies. In spring 2003, he heard about the Maternity and Early Childhood Program offered by the Cayuga County office of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
"I was interested because … I wanted to give my kids a better life than I had," Bill said.
Through the Maternity and Early Childhood Program, Bill learned how to relate to his children and become a better parent. He learned, for example, how to effectively discipline his daughters instead of just yelling at them. Bill completed the program on Sept. 9.
"He’s done a tremendous job with the parenting program. We really have seen a great difference since the day he walked in here. He pulled himself out of the ashes," said Nancy Annibale, Bill’s caseworker at Catholic Charities.
After completing the parenting program, Bill went back to court to gain greater visitation rights, hoping he’d be able to see his daughters for more than a few hours each month. His request was granted. Now supervised monthly visits are a thing of the past for Bill and his children, who spend each weekend with him at his apartment.
"It took me almost a year and a half, and now I’ve got them every weekend. It not only helped my relationship with my kids, but it helped me learn about me and what I’ve gone through in the last 12 years since my father died," Bill said of the parenting program. "I couldn’t have done it all by myself without Catholic Charities."
The Maternity and Early Childhood Program taught Bill what he needed to do to be a good parent, and funds from the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal helped him give his daughters a good home and a better life. Using Christmas Appeal funds, Annibale and her agency purchased clothes for the girls and games for them to play when they are at Bill’s apartment. Annibale also used Christmas Appeal funds to get Bill a gift card from a local grocery store, so he could treat his daughters to some of their favorite foods, and a stroller, so he could take them for walks.
Bill originally came to the agency seeking to become a better father and a better person, and he has done that, Annibale said. Although he had a rough background, he is very sensitive with his children and becomes "a ray of sunshine" around them, she said.
"When I see him with his kids I love it. He’s just a totally different person when he’s with those girls," Annibale said. "He softens and just melts around those little girls. He’s really turned his life around."
Bill is proud of his progress, and said that everything he’s accomplished so far has been done for his daughters. He went from having almost no contact with them to having a relationship that "couldn’t be any better."
"They love me, and that’s a lot. At least once or twice an hour they tell me. To hear that now, it’s definitely great," Bill said. "I can never give up on my kids."
Bill is thankful for the help he received from Catholic Charities and from people around the diocese who support the Christmas Appeal.
"(The appeal) is very helpful to people like me that need the help and realize what I’ve done wrong and what I have to do to change it," Bill said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To contribute to the Christmas Appeal, mail your check or money order (payable to "Christmas Appeal") to: Christmas Appeal, c/o Catholic Courier, PO Box 24379, Rochester, NY 14624-0379. Please enclose your name and mailing address so we may send an acknowledgement for tax purposes.