One recent morning, James Lyons and Doyle Franklin welcomed students getting dropped off at Cedar Hill Collegiate Academy and High School.
Nearly every morning, rain or shine, a dad like Lyons and Franklin is there to greet them.
Franklin says they're at the school to support the students and “be somewhat of a father figure to some of the kids that don’t have a father figure" and "try to make the kids have a better day."
Lyons and Franklin are part of a group called All Pro Dads. Thanks to the group, this morning greeting ritual happens at every school in the Cedar Hill district.
The greeting is "the heartbeat or the mainstay of what we do,” says John Mays, who heads All Pro Dads in Cedar Hill. It’s an offshoot of a Florida-based group that’s been around for 20 years.
In 2014, some Cedar Hill dads got together to try to help some schools and their students. Mays saw the potential and helped grow the group from a handful to some 1,300 fathers serving the entire district.
Mays says he's not trying to change these fathers; they’re already good dads. But he believes that by working together, they can deliver more.
“Overall, these dads have a single focus and that is to be the best dad they can be,” he says.
'Best part of my day'
It was an easy sell to Charles “CT” Wells, who's retired from the military. He got so involved in All Pro Dads that he’s now the group’s vice president.
“We do mentoring,” Wells says. “We read to them. We’re in the cafeteria. We’re not trying to replace parents or fathers. And we’re there to assist wherever they feel there’s a need."
The needs are many. The group helps with Christmas toy and winter clothing drives. They sponsor breakfasts at schools for dads and their kids. They even volunteer as crowd control at big events.
All Pro Dads members say the biggest need in Cedar Hill, however, is being a positive male role model.
They say there are a lot of homes without dads. That’s what member Vernon Folks found out.
“There’s a kid that was in my daughter’s class,” Folks says. “He had another friend that was also a friend of my daughter’s. He texted her and told her hey, he was going to commit suicide. We’re talking about fourth grade. Single parent. I was able to go in and talk to the kid. He’s doing well now. But to hear a fourth grader wanting to commit suicide — you don’t think things like that happen.”
Christopher Jones is a single dad, a Cedar Hill physical education teacher and a dad’s club member.
“There’s a saying: 'It takes a village to raise a child.’ When they have a father figure, it helps keep them out of trouble,” Jones says. “That’s very important because we do not want our children to become statistics. We don’t want them to end up in jail. So when they say have a positive role model, sometimes we can help sway them to do the right thing.”
Greg Porter loves that village metaphor because he oversees it. The father of four and All Pro Dad is Cedar Hill’s city manager. He calls the group this city’s secret weapon.
“That time of taking my child to that school, and then interacting with those other kids? It is almost always the best part of my day,” Porter says. “It sort of anchors me in my other responsibilities in life. It reminds you why you’re here, but also what the great gifts our children really are.”
Kids and adults benefit
Having the All Pro Dads at school "really does help people’s day,” says Hibah Quraishi, a Cedar Hill Collegiate Academy Junior.
Pastor Lobo, a fellow junior, chimes in: "These All Pro Dads are really helping out with everything. We’re all like one big community, and without their help many events couldn’t have been done.”
By design, these students are the organization’s beneficiaries. But many dads — including Wells — say the fathers really are.
“What’s so rewarding is when you’re out and about and you hear the kids say: ‘He’s an All Pro Dad,’" Wells says. "That goes a long, long way.”
Porter says he sees the same thing: Students saying hi to dads around town because they’ve seen them at school in the morning.
He says All Pro Dads brings people together. In his experience, that means good things happen.