Cuyahoga County held the 10th annual Fatherhood Conference, celebrating fatherhood with the message that fathers matter

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CLEVELAND -- A heartbreaking story has become the sad backdrop for a host of weekend events aimed at helping dads get and stay involved in their children's lives.

Two-year-old Derrice Alexander Jr. was accidentally shot and killed by his dad, Derrice, during a heated argument with is mother.

Could any intervention or mentoring programs have prevented that? There's no easy answer.

But Friday, Cuyahoga County held the 10th annual Fatherhood Conference, celebrating fatherhood with the message that fathers matter.

The conference offers programs and advice for fathers struggling to find employment, deal with child support issues and other problems.

Fatherhood Initiative Director Aldonis Grimes said the conference has made a real difference in the lives of thousands of young dads, as well as the lives of their children.

His basic message: "Whether you are in the children's home or not, you need to stay involved in your children's lives."

Councilman Zack Reed is spreading that same theme as he promotes a Saturday event, "The Father's Day Pledge."

It's sponsored by groups including the National League of Cities, the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, the United Way, the city of Cleveland, the Hispanic Roundtable, the Urban League and multiple ministers' groups.

Saturday morning at 10, fathers and families and supporters are invited for refreshments at the Old Stone Church. There will be a march to City Hall followed by a Father's Day pledge to end violence in homes and communities.

Reed isn't sure what the turnout for the heavily promoted event will be. Groups are coming from Akron and Canton.

He says commitment is more important than numbers.

Some have suggested the event is more likely to be a symbolic and a feel-good event than to have any lasting impact on serious issues involving teen pregnancy, lack of jobs and broken families.

"The problem will continue. We'll continue to scratch our heads and continue to go to funerals. And we can continue to cry or we can do something about it," he said.

Similar events are planned in about 50 cities.

The county's Fatherhood Initiative offered numbers of its accomplishments over 10 years.

It's put 3,000 young dads through the basic lessons of a Dad's Boot Camp.

It's given job training to 1,500 young fathers and put 600 in jobs.

Twelve thousand young men have gone through a program to keep them from becoming fathers before they are emotionally and financially ready.

But the problems keep growing. 44 percent of households in Cuyahoga County are now single-parent homes.

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