January 7, 2013

Volunteer group helps give fathers stronger role at elementary school

Watch D.O.G.S., started to reduce violence, has succeeded in providing more male role models.


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Chris Rhoda, center, a member of Watch D.O.G.S., a group of fathers who volunteer at Belgrade Central School, sits with students Brandon Denardo, 8, and Isabell Frost, 9. The national volunteer group was created to provide more of a male presence in schools.

Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

He learned about Watch D.O.G.S. while watching a news segment on television and decided to start a chapter of his own.

After talking with the school principal, he followed the organization's guidelines by inviting the father of every student at Belgrade to a pizza party.

The response was overwhelming.

"It was standing room only in the cafeteria," he said.

Rhoda showed a video pitching the program to 100 fathers in attendance. About three dozen fathers signed up to volunteer, although not all of them have been able to serve yet.

"Most dads have to take an unpaid day off of work to do this," Rhoda said.

Rhoda said the school, parent groups and restaurants helped him with expenses, which included a Watch D.O.G.S. startup kit for a few hundred dollars and the cost of the pizza party.

Today, 16 volunteers have provided a presence during the majority of school days over the past two months. Some have come just one day, but most have covered multiple days. One father has volunteered eight times, Rhoda said.

For Rhoda and many fathers, the biggest appeal of the program is a chance to be with his daughter when he is fresh and energetic, rather than at the end of a long workday.

If the program hasn't spread to the district's middle school by the time his daughter attends, he said he will start another chapter himself.

"As long as she wants me to be at her school, I'll want that too," he said.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:



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