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South Florida nonprofit that helps empower fatherless children makes Miami Proud

PEMBROKE PINES - We all know the acronym M.I.A or missing in action. Fathers M.I.A has changed
the meaning to motivate, involved, and active. This organization helps to empower fatherless children. 

Each year the organization hosts its gala for students across several schools. It's part of its three-month program where they get the tools to advance in life 

Iyannah Jones is a senior at Miami Carroll City High School, and she shares that she doesn't have much of a relationship with her biological father.

"I wouldn't even define him as a dad because a dad is someone that's raised like a companion and that loves you unconditionally and his love is very conditional," she said. 

Avigail Pereyra is a senior at Miramar High School, she has a similar experience.

"I have no communication. He's just a family member I would say. I know I share blood with him, but I don't know my father," she said. 

The challenges of growing up without a father figure are experienced every day by these young women. 

"I was always scared that someone would get close to me and just leave. Or like I would never trust what someone would say when they call me pretty or when they say they loved me," said Jones.

Founder of Fathers M.I.A. Gernald Hawkins hopes to change that thinking by filling a void in their lives with this program. 

"I was adopted at birth, I had abandonment issues. So, I wanted to make sure that kids that did not have fathers in their lives, had a safe place to go," said Hawkins. 

That's why he created this nonprofit that comes together each year with an annual youth empowerment gala. This year was the 6th annual with scholarships totaling $10,000 given to students and a father of the year is crowned too.

However, it's the lessons these young people walk away with that truly leave the greatest impact.

"It taught me not everybody is like my father. Not every boy is going to leave me. Or I don't have to be so closed off to people because I can miss out on very good opportunities," said Jones.

Pereyra's learned her own lessons, "don't be afraid to speak about what you feel inside. The longer you hold onto your emotions and your feelings, it will come out eventually in your life decisions," she said.

Fathers M.I.A. are not men missing in action, they're men that show up.

"Just the opportunity to be able to know that you're that protector, that provider, whatever it is that they need, just to let them know that you're there, I think that makes all the difference in the world," said volunteer Jehud Presume.

Jones and Pereyra are both heading to college hoping to succeed with all they've learned in the program to show their biological fathers that they made it without them.

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