Bonding on Safari: Zoo welcomes NINOS for Father and Child Day

BROWNSVILLE — As Kaitlyn Blanco, 5, spins around the pavilion in the park without a care in the world, her father figure and uncle, Jose Herrera, watches to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself.

But he can’t help but smile.

“Seeing her run, laugh, and play is great,” Herrera said yesterday. “I just want for her to enjoy childhood. Seeing her happy makes me happy.”

Herrera was one of the 705 father figures who visited the Gladys Porter Zoo as part of the Neighbors in Need of Services’ Head Start Father & Child Day at the Zoo.

Lora Lee Marquez, family services coordinator, said a child’s growth can be substantial with the presence of a father figure.

“It’s a key part of their child development. It strengthens the family, and leads everyone to have better experiences in life,” Marquez said.

While it is common for a child to have a maternal figure, it is not always that they have a father figure presence in their life. This can be for various reasons, such as work or culture, Marquez said.

It was an amazing sight to see fathers combing hair, reading books, and spending time with their children, Marquez said.

“For some, this might be their kickoff. We want to introduce (the fathers) to something fun and relaxing they can do with their kids. We don’t want for this to be their last time taking the children to the park or reading to them,” said Manuela Rendon, Head Start director.

David Martinez, who is part of the Fred Booth Head Start Center in San Benito, brought his 4-year-old son, David Jr. This was their first time on a field trip alone.

“He’s been excited all week, asking if it was Saturday yet,” Martinez said, laughing. “I enjoyed seeing his reactions to seeing animals for the first time.”

Martinez works two jobs and as a result works day and night Monday through Friday. He only gets to see his son the weekends.

“This was a really good experience, and hopefully we’ll get more time together,” Martinez said.

Herrera looks after his niece for her parents, who both work a busy schedule. If he cannot take care of Blanco, her grandfather will.

Herrera said the two toured the zoo. Blanco’s favorite animal was the zebra.

“All we did here today was facilitate the father figure bond,” Rendon said. “These experiences will last a lifetime.”