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September 11, 2013

Church program helps dads, families connect

By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — A new program kicked off at the West Oneonta Baptist Church on Tuesday that seeks to help men communicate messages of love and encouragement to their loved ones through letter writing.

West Oneonta Baptist Church Pastor Tim Thurber said that he and his parishioners decided to host a “Letters from Dad” program at their church after attending a men’s retreat in Albany this spring and hearing its creator, Greg Vaughn, speak.

Thurber described the program as, “An opportunity for men ... to connect with their children, their spouses, their parents, if they’re still living.”

The “Letters from Dad” program was created by Vaughn, an Emmy Award-winning television producer, nine years ago, after his father died.

Said Vaughn: “I know my father loved me; he just had one little problem, he couldn’t say it.”

Vaughn also said that he regretted not having his father’s signature, and that he wished his father had left him a letter.

This inspired Vaughn to gather together 12 of his friends. They met four times over the next four months and wrote four groups of letters of love and blessing: one to their wives, one to their children, one to their parents and one to be read after they die.

On the letter to be read after a man’s passing, Vaughn said: “On the darkest night of our kids, our family’s life, there would be a letter from us to them.”

Vaughn said that the response to the first session of the program was very positive.

Speaking of the wives of the first 12 men, Vaughn said: “They would say, ‘I don’t know what you did to my husband, but please keep doing it.’”

Vaughn said that the next time the program was run it attracted 130 people, the time after that 350, and the time after that 700. Vaughn then wrote a book, “Letters From Dad,” and created a formal program to be run out of churches.

Today, over 3,000 churches have launched “Letters from Dad” programs.

Said Vaughn: “(I) never intended it to become a movement.”

The West Oneonta Baptist Church began the program Tuesday with food and introductory videos, as well as explanations from the program’s leadership team, which includes Thurber.

The letter writing sessions will start Oct. 1 and continue over three more meetings.

The first meeting will focus on participants writing letters to their children, the second will focus on writing letters to wives, the third will focus on writing letters to parents and the last will focus on writing a letter to be read after a participant’s death.

Those without wives or living parents will be asked to write letters to other significant people.

On the driving force behind the program, Thurber said that men stereotypically have a harder time writing and expressing their feelings to their families.

“This is an opportunity for men to take the time to learn how to do it,” he said.

He also talked about being able to leave something of value to one’s family.

“This is being intentional about leaving a legacy for your family,” he said. “Children want that from their fathers.”

Religious faith is also a foundation of the program.

“It is a biblically based program,” said Vaughn, who described the bible as a love letter from God. “If God felt it important enough to write a love letter to me ... I think I should follow his example.”

Vaughn said the program focused on the power of the written and spoken word, and helped men speak and write words of love and encouragement to their loved ones.

“We really help the men to focus on what they say,” he said.

In terms of the content of the letters, Vaughn described them as conveying the essence of a person, as well as the hopes and dreams they have for their family.

“It’s passing on everything about you that you want to pass on,” Thurber said.

Thurber said that they’d signed up 36 men for the program before the kick off, and were preparing for 40.

The “Letters from Dad” program is distributed through Vaughn’s company, Texas-based Grace Products Corporation. Because of a gift from a wealthy past participant in the program, a grant is available for churches with men’s groups of a certain size to receive the program for free. The West Oneonta Baptist Church qualified for and received this grant.

Participants in the program, however, must pay for materials from the program, which include a DVD series on letter writing, letterhead stationary and a leather binder. Vaughn said these materials typically cost around $59. Scholarships are also available for those who can’t afford the materials.

Thurber himself is a participant in the program, and said the reception so far has been good.

“We have a very good response,” said Thurber. “It’s an exciting opportunity to continue what we’re doing with the men in our church.”

Those interested in the program can contact Thurber at tthurber5@gmail.com or by calling 267-1130. Sign ups are being accepted until Oct. 1.