On a normal morning, Jenks Dads on Duty (JDOD) can be seen helping students cross the busy street and providing words of encouragement.
On a normal morning, Jenks Dads on Duty (JDOD) can be seen helping Jenks Academy students cross a busy East Southampton Avenue while providing words of encouragement before those pupils even walk into the building.
On Nov. 16, the collective also helped run a Thanksgiving feast for students at the school as parents brought in cooked meals for everyone to enjoy.
“We wear a lot of different hats, but it gives us the ability to help out wherever we can,” said Jenks Dads on Duty member Khayri McKinney. “We have laid our foundation in so many aspects of Jenks that they see our consistency. They see how we come together to convey a positive message for the kids and the parents.”
The collective includes fathers and grandfathers of students in the school, who volunteer a helping hand during time away from their full-time jobs. When parents and children are looking for assistance, they know they can identify a JDOD member outside the school by their signature yellow hoodies.
Jenks Dads on Duty originated in 2021 with seven core members: Che Branham, Ray Pine, Khayri McKinney, Larry Conway, Kenneth Searles, Tyler Baber and Randy Green.
“In regards to how this has grown with the school, the key word has been consistency,” McKinney said. “When you’re doing this every day in rain, sleet, or snow, it allows the school to feel more comfortable with bringing us in.”
In the beginning, they noticed that the traffic on Ardleigh Street and East Southampton Avenue was overwhelming for parents who needed to drop their children off. Many parents would have to walk their kids across the street before rushing to work, which prompted these fathers to volunteer and escort children to the school steps safely.
Months after it was founded by Branham and Pine, they passed the torch to the remaining members. Since then, some may call McKinney the captain, but to him, he’s just the “point guard” with great teammates who share common values.
“I’m the point guard, but I can’t win a game solo,” McKinney said. “I never look at myself as the captain, I just look at it as being a part of a beautiful team. I’m just the liaison that usually asks the school ‘What do you need from us?’”
Today, the Jenks Dads on Duty has 14 members: McKinney, Conway, Searles, Baber, Green, Albert Geiger, Marcus Dedan Tolbert, Joseph White III, Eric Hungerford, Maurice Whitaker, Benj Baehr, Jonathan Charles, Ralph Lewis and Shawn Cavanaugh.
“Our consistency and care has made them want to invite us more into things that are happening in the school, like into meetings and into the Friends of Jenks organization,” McKinney said. “We get to hear and talk about what’s going on in terms of events, diversity and inclusion and many other topics that affect the student body.”
As its membership has expanded, the group has added more services and responsibilities. They have also influenced activities and actions within the student body.
The dads volunteer community service by picking up trash around the school property, and they occasionally help out with serving food at school events and at Chestnut Hill festivals.
Holding anti-bullying seminars, various assemblies and reading services in the library, have also helped the dads guide the students in both their social lives and educational journeys.
The group usually starts to control traffic and get students into the school safely around 7:15 a.m. They check to make sure all of the doors are locked before they leave around 8 a.m. They also stay on the lookout for intruders who may try to enter the building in the morning.
Conway, a member with a grandchild in the school, has gotten used to how the JDOD has also helped students stay out of trouble to keep them on the right path.
“Sometimes with horseplay, someone can get pushed too hard and a fight may break out, but for the most part we’ve been able to intercept most,” Conway said. “Their parents aren’t there to prevent them from getting into trouble, so that’s why they're glad that some of us hang around.”
Conway also remembers times when they have had the responsibility of respectfully escorting homeless individuals away from the playground with kids present.
“One time, some of the kids were screaming at me to get a man up and then I had to remind them to relax a little, he’s a person,” Conway said. “I asked him if he was alright and kindly explained to him that he was in a playground with children who were trying to play. It was no problem, he got up and walked away.”
McKinney, who has four daughters in the school, understands how much this work means to him and the other members.
“I’m high energy about this topic because it’s beautiful to me,” McKinney said. “I feel like I’m part of something that I wish the world knew about, and that I encourage even more fathers across the city to participate in.”