The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

A local dad makes it his mission to foster fatherhood

Fred Newell stands in front of a Dream Center banner on Feb. 11, 2016. Newell is the executive director of the Dream Center, an organization he founded to strengthen and empower families.

In a strangely quiet Dream Center, the front office was empty except for a little girl looking about in wonder and puzzlement. Uncertain where to go, she opened the door to the outside. The ensuing scene was quite spectacular.

As he stood in the center of a grassy field, Frederick Newell, the executive director of The Dream Center, was in the midst of pitching in a rather competitive game of kickball. The bases were loaded, and the field was flooded with kids of all ages, beaming and laughing.

This is an everyday occurrence at The Dream Center, with a mission to “strengthen and empower families, with a particular focus on fathers and youth, through support, advocacy, lifelong education, and community connections.”

With Sunday being the day of celebration for those who take on the title of “Dad,” The Daily Iowan sat down with Newell to learn about his story and his life’s work.

“I piloted a fatherhood support program. Being a single father at that particular time, I was always looking for ways to engage with other fathers to see what type of support was out there,” Newell said. “It’s a brotherhood where all walks of life can come together to talk about issues and successes that dads deal with.”

As kids continually walked through the interview ​— Newell being the heart, soul, and beverage supplier of the center ​— it was evident that his love for what he does was felt by all those involved. But it took some experiences to get to where he is today.

“I had my first kid when I was 17 in high school,” he said. “I graduated from the University of Iowa in 2010 with my undergrad in social work … but I was actually in the process of dropping out of school.”

Newell said he had initially been in the nursing program, a career aspiration pushed by his grandmother, but he realized that wasn’t the future he wanted.

“I wasn’t interested in the classes I was taking, but I had to take Introduction to Social Work … I had my drop slip signed for all of my other classes, but my professor, Sara Sanders, she was my last class that I needed to drop,” Newell said.

Newell remembers approaching her, drop slip in hand, when she started filling his head with positive affirmations.

“I had to take my son to every class when I was in college, so she was encouraging me through that situation. After that, I didn’t have the guts to ask her to sign the drop slip ​… my life took off from there.”

Two years later, he founded The Dream Center. Now, his undertaking of embracing fatherhood and tackling its challenges is stronger than ever.

“I think our [father’s] group is one of the best in the world, honestly … it’s a room full of men who talk about their feelings, they’ll tell you they don’t, but the environment in which we create is a safe environment,” Newell said. “We are just here to support other individuals.”

More to Discover
About the Contributor