Neil Samuels—Someone You Should Know

December 2016 View more

nmag1216_sysk_neilsamuels_800pxAs they say, when you become a parent the baby doesn’t come with a manual. That’s not because help is hard to find; for generations mothers have advised their daughters, women have relied on friends, and then there are actual manuals you can purchase.

But what sometimes gets lost in the challenges of parenthood is the role of the father, and particularly fatherhood mentoring—it’s what drew Neil Samuels to answer a call for volunteers seven years ago. As a management consultant he felt he could put his skills to good use.

Naperville-based Project HELP matches those in need with parent mentors who work to establish a plan to get clients through the difficult times. Established by members of the Exchange Club of Naperville in 1992, they can offer help with everything from potty training to potential child abuse. Child abuse prevention is one of the core missions of the Exchange Club. Covering the whole of DuPage County, as well as providing parent mentors, they also offer workshops, home visitations and goal setting. They believe they get better results by forging relationships with parents.

Samuels is president and founder of Profound Conversations, a company that offers leadership training. “I can use the same skill set, but in a more meaningful way—I know I can make a difference here,” he said at his Naperville home. “Project HELP is strength-based. Parents are asked to look at what their children are doing right, as opposed to trying to fix what they are doing wrong.”

This year Samuels became the first the first male to receive the Exchange Club of America’s Parent Mentor of the Year Award.

“I was flattered and touched, but it was unnecessary,” he said with typical modesty. “I can’t think of anything more personally rewarding in my life than doing this work. The impact we are able to have is quite significant.”

The client-mentor relationship usually lasts for a year. Samuels explained that mentors are not there to give advice, but choices. “It’s a commitment of only four-and-a-half hours per month, but the return on commitment is outstanding,” he said. “I can’t think of anything else that has so much impact for so little time.”

Samuels’ most memorable case was that of an ex-felon he met with weekly at the Aurora train station, who was trying to gain custody of his youngest son who was in foster care. “I shared stories of how I felt I had made mistakes with my son,” he said. “What he needed was parent education, to help him prepare for fatherhood. I recall him saying to me, ‘They think I’m stupid. I’ve done stupid things but I’m not stupid.’”

Families reunited

“The impact is huge,” said Samuels, who is now vice president of Project HELP. “It’s the difference between those boys growing up with a father than without.” Samuels didn’t become a father himself until he was 40. His son Lex is now 21 and studying at American University in Washington DC.

“I believe you should let your children face consequences early and often when the consequences are small,” he said. “My advice would be to listen, listen, listen and focus on their strengths—what they are doing well. Our children are always talking, but as parents we are not always listening.”

More information about Project HELP, including volunteer and donation information, can be found at Parenting education workshops are held throughout the year at various west-suburban locations.