STAMFORD — Jelani Tonge, the father of a 2-year old girl, decided St. Joseph’s Parenting Center’s 24-7 Dad program, a support group for fathers, might help him improve his parenting skills.

“I learned a lot about how to talk to my daughter, which is helpful because, with a 2-year-old, you know they can get out of hand,” Tonge said.

Tonge was more one of more than 120 players who hit the basketball court Sunday at the parenting center’s 3rd annual 3 on 3 Hoops Tournament at Chelsea Piers Stamford, a one day double elimination tournament raising money for the organization’s parenting courses, which serve low income parents.


The program, which began in 2010, serves about 300 parents a year at the Yerwood Center on the city’s west side. About half of those participants are referred by the state’s Department of Children and Families or via court orders, said Executive Director Measi O’Rourke.

Tonge, 21, of Stamford, said, in addition to helping him be a better dad, the program also helped him come to grips with unresolved emotions over his brother Aswad dying in a car crash when Tonge was 7 years old.

“It helped me with grieving and learning discipline, because you have to be structured with your time,” he said. “Just being in a group with eight other dads with children ages 15 to 1 is giving me a wealth of advice about caring for children

In addition to a rotating curriculum of 28 classes in English and Spanish, the center offers social workers who can connect parents to agencies and organizations that provide clothing, food or additional work training, O’Rourke said.

“The greater number of stressors you have in your life can make it difficult to give the sort of attention you want to children when you are faced with being out of a job, or finding food or clothes for your family,” she said.

Each team participating in Sunday’s hoops tournament paid a $300 registration fee, but corporate sponsorships from area companies like Navigators Group, Chubb and NBC Sports are expected to raise $50,000 from the event, said Stan Galanski, the chief executive officer of Navigators Group and a member of the St. Joseph’s board.

“This type of event has become especially critical, as you can no longer rely on the state or federal government to support a program like this because funds are so scarce,” Galanski said.

Another participant, Kyle Walsh of White Plains, N.Y., volunteered to become a facilitator who taught the 24/7 Dad program, which meets once a week for three months.

The 36-year-old father of three said the program’s open discussions of parenting challenges has been rewarding for him as well. Men have fewer outlets and invitations to commiserate about the challenges of parenting than mothers often do, Walsh said.

“Just to be able to talk about having a kids who has trouble with their homework or other issues you find out other people have these problems too,” Walsh said. “Women often talk about parenting in groups but fathers don’t always have that support.”

The parenting center will hosts its annual Benefit Breakfast at 7:30 a.m., April 5, at the Italian Center, 1620 Newfield Ave., Stamford. The keynote speaker will be Lisa Miller, a professor of psychology at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College and author of, ‘The Spiritual Child: The New Science of Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving. Tickets are available at www.sjpcenter.org.