PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, father figures — The Up Center is looking for you.

It’s launching a new program that puts the focus on dad while still supporting mom. The goal is to improve maternal health outcomes by working with dads, especially in underserved communities.

“The Up Center is the place where we’re here to help families thrive,” said Michael Jones, Dad Engagement Specialist with The Up Center.

Jones is leading the charge on “Dads 2 Dads.”

“We wanted to use a very innovative approach targeting dads,” Jones said, “helping them to support moms during pregnancy, advocate and support during labor and delivery, and then also provide the support that fathers need to be healthy themselves so they can be there for the family.”

In doing so, they hope to improve maternal health outcomes, especially for people in underserved communities.

“We’re facing mothers who are having traumatic birth experiences,” Jones said. “We want to reduce that. We want to reduce the instances of mothers dying during childbirth or from complications that are related to childbirth.”

The program has three components: Dads 2 Dads group sessions, Dads & Doulas, and 1-on-1 sessions for dads.

“We give the fathers all the information that moms would get in birth education class, mommy and me class,” Jones said. “We present that information to a father, in a father-friendly way that not only allows him to understand what mom and baby are going through during the pregnancy, what mom needs to have a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby and delivery experience.”

The funding for this new program comes from the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, which is giving The Up Center a $350,000 grant to use over three years.

“The old adage: it takes as village to raise a child,” said Rosalind Hopkins, The Up Center’s Director of Prevention Services. “We want our dads to know: you are a part of that village,”

Hopkins says Dads 2 Dads gives fathers both tools and support.

“We wanted to be very intentional of allowing fathers to know: you are part of the family,” Hopkins said, “and we see you, we understand, we want to let you know, we’re here to support you and advocate for your families.”

That advocacy is what drives Jones.

“I have two Black daughters,” Jones said, “and I want to make sure that should they choose to have children and they’re able to, that they won’t have some of the traumatic experiences that other mothers have had during their birthing process.”

Over the next three years, he hopes the program creates change.

“Systems are designed to stay the way that they are,” Jones said. “So if you challenge the system both from inside and the system and outside the system, then we can break these walls down and we can have less dead black and brown moms and babies. That’s what I want, no more.”

To do that, he believes having the fathers involved is key.

“We want to make sure that fathers see themselves an integral part of the family prior to the birth of the child,” Jones said. “I personally believe that the family is a microcosm of the community, so as the family goes, so the community goes. So not only do we want fathers to be engaged for the benefit of their own health, and their own finances and their own family, but engaged fathers will also be a great benefit for the community.”

This funding is part of Anthem’s $30 million commitment to advance equity in maternal and child health nationwide.

The Up Center is looking for future dads to participate — and those who are already fathers or father figures to get involved as mentors. You can learn more on The Up Center’s website or by contacting Jones directly at Michael.jones@theupcenter.org or at 757-337-344.