First Things First Hosts Graduation for Men Completing “Dad’s Making a Difference”


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — Just before Christmas, First Things First, a local non-profit dedicated to strengthening families, hosted a graduation for several men who had completed its program….”Dad’s Making a Difference”. But the program is helping more people than just the dads.

The main goals of First Things First, are to reduce both the number of divorce filings, and out of wedlock pregnancies. It also aims to increase the father’s involvement in the lives of his children.

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Patterns of broken relationships and poor decision making can be passed down from generation to generation, and First Things First wants to break that cycle in Chattanooga.

One of the ways they are doing that, is with this program, Dad’s Making a Difference. It’s a 12 week intensive training, to teach fathers how to restore their relationships with their children, and sometimes their children’s mother too.

“Billy Brown . . . applause . . .”

“One of the things we see is, a lot more amicable relationships with the mom or sometimes whoever the custodial parent is. Because, throughout the process – understanding – you begin to understand the perspective of the other person. Because, not only do we talk about things like jobs skills, or understanding the court system or understanding financial literacy, we also dig into relationship skills,” said Reggie Madison, Program Director for First Things First.

Tony Mastin has just completed this course.

“It changed my thoughts completely on how the court system worked as far as child support. Where, I came in feeling negative about the system, but after being in the program, and you know, learning what the system is about, it made me really appreciate the child support system,” said Tony Mastin, a Dad’s Making a Difference graduate.

Men who don’t pay child support on time, can go to jail.

“It really gives these men, who are on the verge of being incarcerated, an opportunity to understand, they really matter in the lives of their children,” said Julie Baumgardner, First Things First CEO.

“Not only are the kids affected, through, better grades in school, I mean, we see fathers that are active, taking active roles now in the PTA world, we have fathers that are coaching their kids baseball and basketball teams now, things like that, but also you see the friends of their kids now kind of flocking and gravitating towards their dads, because it’s a strong male presence that they can feel confident in,” said Madison.

And recent graduate James Woods, is volunteering to help other men though the program.

“I’ve been though a lot in life. And so for me to come and give back and show people that, you can make it; because I have been in the system, I’ve been to jail before, I’ve had problems with child support, and for me to show the world that you can make it,” said James Woods, Dad’s Making a Difference Graduate Volunteer.

“I’m spending a lot more time with them, and for one thing, I’m making sure that they get the money that they deserve,” said Mastin.

Over the course of this 9 year old program, First Things First has graduated 322 dads who are now making a positive difference in hundreds of children’s lives. And its helped 360 men get jobs.

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Ashley is a lifetime Chattanooga area resident, and a 1987 graduate from UTC, with a BA in communications. While there, he was commissioned through the ROTC program, served simultaneously in the 1/181st field artillery Tn. Army National Guard, finished Airborne school, was a member of the Scabbard and Blade military honor society and ROTC Rangers, the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, played snare drum with the UTC Marching band, and played in a southern rock band called Southern Atmosphere, while working a full time job as a trainer at the Sports Barn. He also won the Southeastern United States teenage bodybuilding competition during this time. Ashley has been with News 12 Now for 21 years. Prior to working here he was a videographer, director, producer and editor at Falcon Cable TV in Dalton, Ga. for 6 years where he produced thousands of commercials and dozens of hour long features. He also worked as a freelancer and employee at another network affiliate in Chattanooga. He has operated a part time video production business from home for 25 years. He says his passion is telling stories that feature people who give of themselves to help others, and stories that inspire people to make positive changes in themselves and their communities. Ashley is ecstatically married to Debbie Henderson, and has two step sons, a daughter in law, a sister, and lots of aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, and great nieces and nephews. His parents are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year. Ashley and Debbie are active members of Brainerd Baptist Church. His interests include weight training and cycling with his wife, photography, poetry, playing drums, and checking off items from his extensive honey-do list. If you would like to reach Ashley, email him at