Celebrating Fathers of Freedom

Celebrating Fathers of Freedom

Adam Combs and Adrian Nunez, two military veteran fathers, recognized a void in their community for fathers attempting to figure out how to jump back into parenthood while working to overcome other struggles that often accompany serving abroad. 

Having a network of people to turn to when parenting gets stressful is critical to the well-being of children and families, as well as the economic health of Colorado. According to Illuminate Colorado, surveys among parents in Colorado prior to the pandemic highlighted the critical need to increase social connections among people parenting in Colorado. While 50% of Colorado parents think other parents ask for help with parenting, the reality is that only one in five parents in Colorado reported asking for support with parenting and one in five said they have no one to turn to for day to day emotional support with raising children.

Thanks to Combs and Nunez leadership, military fathers have a new place to connect with a brand-new Circle of Parents group in Colorado Springs open to any veteran father starting this month. The community known as Fathers of Freedom will meet online every Tuesday via Zoom beginning November 17th from 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm. They say they welcome drop-ins and, when it is appropriate, plan to meet in person and offer dinner and child care free of charge. Open to any veteran father who has the desire to build a strong and lasting bond with not only their children, but also with other veteran fathers, the community also set up a private Fathers of Freedom Facebook group. However, these two dads are no strangers to parent groups, having led a statewide online Circle of Fathers group since the pandemic impacted Colorado early this year.

“The biggest reason I started this group was because being a stay at home father who is a combat veteran and has battled a lot of things over the years, at times have begun to feel isolated and withdrawn from the rest of society,” said Nunez.  “I wanted to create a safe place for other Veteran fathers to meet up and fellowship and encourage and support each other through the thick and thin of life to really step out of our comfort zones to grow. A place we can learn to trust and confide in one another with any success or issue and most importantly teach each other from our own different or similar experiences to be the best and healthiest fathers and leaders we can be!”

In today’s society, many men, especially those serving in a highly serious profession, often find it difficult or even shameful to share emotions. The hope is this group will help break down those walls and create the space for fathers to seek the information and techniques they need to build on their parenting skills. 

People raising children of all ages can find statewide and local circles of parents connecting at CircleofParentsCO.org. Groups have come together based on their location as well as shared experiences, like military service, parenting while in recovery from a substance use disorder and parenting a child with special needs. Others simply want to connect with people in a similar parenting role, like the kinship, grandparenting and fatherhood Circle groups.  

Men are prejudged and punished for simply not knowing what they don’t know, because nobody has taken the time to instill that knowledge in them or model it for them,” Combs said.  “They are set-up to fail at fatherhood, of no fault of their own, because that is how our society has raised them to be.  Noted, these statements do not stand true for all fathers, but from within the populous of men I have spoken to on this subject matter, all have a strong desire to be in their children’s lives and be engaging fathers, they just do not know how to go about completely fulfilling that request at times.  If you add that uncertainty with any other childhood trauma or PTSD symptoms from a veteran’s time serving the war effort, you have a recipe for potential absence or child neglect/abuse.”  

Parents with a social network of emotionally supportive friends, family, and neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves. All parents need people they can call on once in a while when they need a sympathetic listener, advice or support. To help parents find that support in their lives, Illuminate Colorado is focused on growing Circle of Parents® in Colorado.

Built around the foundations of mutual self-help, parent leadership, family support, and increasing all five Protective Factors in families, Circle of Parents® groups to strengthen families and prevent child maltreatment. Groups are parent-led and parent-driven and thus there is no curriculum – just a safe place for parents to share with each other and seek support and advice. Circle of Parents® groups provide a friendly, supportive environment led by parents and other caregivers, where parents are the experts.  It’s a place where anyone in a parenting role can openly discuss the successes and challenges of raising children.  It’s a place where they can find and share support.

We cannot help anyone until we take the time to help ourselves.  I started this group because I want to give our veteran fathers a support group to lean on and voice their concerns,” said Combs. “To speak about different tools to parenting and what some of the research is saying.  To openly communicate to each other what things have been working in their household and what things have not been working.  To give men a platform to be vulnerable with other men so they can discuss parenting without feeling judged for their potential ignorance on the subject matter.  This will be an open space where we can learn together through open discussion and book recommendations.  It will be a place to organize group activities with our children to build closer bonds and instill trust.  I want this organization to be a safe-haven where men are given the opportunity to be the best fathers they can be to their children and the best role models they can be for the next generation of fathers.  I think it is important to give ourselves some grace in parenting, because at the end of the day, we are all just doing the best we can.”

Think You Won’t Fall Asleep? Think Again: Infant Safe Sleep and the Impact of Substance Use

Think You Won’t Fall Asleep? Think Again: Infant Safe Sleep and the Impact of Substance Use

Few things are more exhausting than a new baby. Increased infant crying, perhaps a few older children to care for, and trying to get back to work after a few short weeks all result in very, very tired caregivers.


October is Safe Sleep Awareness month. There has been a great deal of information shared this month around what a safe sleep crib looks like. And although it can sound a bit boring, ensuring cribs are free of objects which could lead to suffocation is worth the mental shift from “cute” to “safe”. Talking with all the family and friends who come in contact with baby about safe sleep practices is important to ensure even good-willed intentions do not lead to tragedy.

Adding Substance Use to the Mix

Imagine the last time you were beyond tired. Maybe you found yourself dozing off driving to or from work. Maybe you fell asleep watching a movie you actually wanted to see. Or maybe that last zoom call was just too long to handle. Sometimes our bodies take over even when we have every intention to stay awake.

Now take a moment and imagine adding substances that can lead to additional depression of the body’s ability to function, like alcohol, marijuana, some over the counter and prescription medications, and illicit substances. When contemplating the use of substances with a newborn in the home (separate from breastfeeding risks and substance use) it is important to be extra vigilant in ensuring your baby has a safe place to sleep.


Caregiving of an infant is exhausting. Falling asleep when feeding a baby on a couch or in bed is not uncommon for a tired caregiver. The impacts and side effects of many common substances increases the risk of positional overlay, which is when a caregiver accidentally rolls over on a baby in bed or on a couch or large chair, suffocating the infant. If you are thinking right now you would totally wake up if you rolled over on a baby, remember the times noted above. You didn’t mean to fall asleep, but you did. And if a caregiver is exhausted, and impacted by substance use, whether they were feeding the baby, or in bed with a baby and an additional caregiver, the risk of positional overlay or entrapment increases. And sleeping on a couch with a baby increases the risk even more, especially when substances are involved.

Increasing Safety in Sleeping Environments

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there are several ways to increase safety in sleeping environments, including:

  • Until their first birthday, babies should sleep on their backs for all sleep times—for naps and at night. 
  • Use a firm sleep surface. 
  • Room share—keep baby’s sleep area in the same room where you sleep for the first 6 months or, ideally, for the first year. 
  • Only bring your baby into your bed to feed or comfort.
  • Never place your baby to sleep on a couch, sofa, or armchair.
  • Bed-sharing is not recommended for any babies. However, certain situations make bed-sharing even more dangerous. Therefore, you should not bed share with your baby if:
    • Your baby is younger than 4 months old.
    • Your baby was born prematurely or with low birth weight.
    • You or any other person in the bed is a smoker (even if you do not smoke in bed).
    • The mother of the baby smoked during pregnancy.
    • You have taken any medicines or drugs that might make it harder for you to wake up.
    • You drank any alcohol.
    • You are not the baby’s parent.
    • The surface is soft, such as a waterbed, old mattress, sofa, couch, or armchair.
    • There is soft bedding like pillows or blankets on the bed.
  • Keep soft objects, loose bedding, or any objects that could increase the risk of entrapment, suffocation, or strangulation out of the baby’s sleep area. 
  • It is fine to swaddle your baby. 
  • Try giving a pacifier at nap time and bedtime. 

For more detailed descriptions of the above information, visit A Parent’s Guide to Safe Sleep.

You Are Not Alone

Being a caregiver for a newborn is exhausting. If you are a parent or caregiver reading this, know you are not alone and that feeling exhausted is normal. It will pass. You will find a new pattern and chances to catch up on sleep over the next few years. Following safe sleep practices now, including limiting substance use, and creating and using safe sleep environments, can reduce the risk of SUIDS and the risks of positional overlay. Reach out to parent groups, family or your community for support. Raising children is beyond hard!

For more information on resources to help provide safe sleep environments, call 1-800-CHILDREN, 2-1-1, or your local health department. For more information on finding support from other parents, visit CircleOfParentsCO.org.

RELEASE: San Luis Valley to Benefit From Nearly Half a Million Dollar Federal Investment To Reduce The Number of Babies Experiencing Withdrawal

RELEASE: San Luis Valley to Benefit From Nearly Half a Million Dollar Federal Investment To Reduce The Number of Babies Experiencing Withdrawal


Today, Illuminate Colorado, in partnership with the San Luis Valley Neonatal Task Force, announced the award of a Federal grant totaling nearly $500,000 over three-years to reduce the incidence and impact of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in rural communities. NAS is a withdrawal syndrome that can occur in newborns exposed to certain substances, including opioids, during pregnancy. The grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will fund work to improve integrated care and care coordination for pregnant people, mothers and women of childbearing age in the San Luis Valley who have or are at risk of a substance use disorder. 

“This is critical funding needed to continue the work of the San Luis Valley Neonatal Task Force in our community. Unlike other regions that may need to build their capacity, we already have a multidisciplinary task force focused on healthy babies for women with substance use disorder. Our communities have critical services including a methadone clinic, a community mental health center and a federally qualified health center, all skilled in treating opioid use disorders,” said Ruth Horn, the co-founder and coordinator of the San Luis Valley Neonatal Task Force. “Yet 2.8% of births in the San Luis Valley have been diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome. We need this support to combine prenatal services and treatment, help women access those services and de-stigmatize treatment for women to decrease the high rate of NAS in our region.” 

Illuminate Colorado, a statewide nonprofit working to strengthen families, organizations and communities to prevent child maltreatment, is partnering with the San Luis Valley Neonatal Task Force, a group comprised of health care, human service providers and community members that have been impacted by substance use, as well as the San Luis Valley Health, Valley-Wide Health Systems, San Luis Valley Area Health Education Center and Early Childhood Council of San Luis Valley to focus on strategies in prevention, treatment and recovery funded through the grant. Colorado’s award is one of 30 awards nationwide from HRSA’s Federal Office of Rural Health Policy through the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program-Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome which totals nearly $15 million. 

In addition to supporting the work of the San Luis Valley Neonatal Task Force, the grant will provide support for Illuminate Colorado to continue to expand a new program – Illuminating Child Care – in the San Luis Valley by partnering with community-based nonprofits, local substance use disorder treatment providers and government agencies in the area to deliver mobile child care onsite where parents are getting the support that they need to strengthen their families.

“We are very excited to deepen our partnerships in the San Luis Valley to ensure community-based solutions supporting families impacted by substance use disorders have the resources they need to make a difference. When families have information and access to available local resources to meet basic needs, we strengthen the foundation for families and communities to thrive,” said Jade Woodard executive director of Illuminate Colorado.


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