a man and two women standing next to each other
Billy Davis, founder and Executive Director of A Positive Step of Monroe County enjoys a light moment with APSMC volunteers at a past Southernmost Fatherhood Initiative picnic. CONTRIBUTED

Billy Davis, well known in the Florida Keys as the child and family advocate with the booming voice and seemingly endless reservoir of energy and heart, moved from Washington, D.C., to Key West in 1996 to run a drug and alcohol treatment program. But understanding very well that so many self-destructive behaviors begin in childhood, after just three years living and working in the community, Davis launched A Positive Step of Monroe County, a non-profit organization with a mission to serve Monroe County’s highest-risk kids and their families. 

With Davis as executive director, APSMC initially and predominantly focused on youth advocacy. But because a significant percentage of the young people the group serves come from homes with absentee dads, the organization in 2019 launched a new program, the “Southernmost Fatherhood Initiative,” a free, evidence-based program designed to provide supportive training for dads, including those who were incarcerated, to develop new skills in parent, co-parent and child relationships.

José Linares is a local business owner, who with his wife Karla Campos, has a blended family with five children: Diana, 27; Blake, 19; Kaylee, 11; Valeria, 11; and Nathan, 3. Linares learned of the “Southernmost Fatherhood Initiative” through Wesley House Family Services and signed up in 2019.

a group of people posing for a picture in front of a house
José Linares’ blended family includes, clockwise, Valeria, 11; wife Karla holding son Nathan, 3; Karla’s father Mario Campos; Kaylee, 11; and Blake, 19. CONTRIBUTED

“I was having problems with the kids, in particular my son Blake,” Linares said. “The program was my path back to them. It taught me a lot about communicating and how to relate to them as children, and not as another adult. I learned that the way I used to speak to Blake was wrong and would never result in positive outcomes. I learned how to talk, and more importantly, how to listen to him, and our relationship got much better. I completed the program before the pandemic, and I believe it helped keep our family together during that incredibly stressful time.

“Today, two of the kids live with me and Karla. Two live with their mom, but spend a lot of time with us at our home on Big Coppitt Key, and my oldest daughter is married and also lives in the Keys. My son Blake now has his own pool maintenance business that I helped him launch. The Fatherhood Initiative taught me a lot about patience, how to better understand and get more involved with my kids. My business, Key West Global Shipping Plus, keeps me busy, but we make time as a family and on Sundays we go out on the boat and fish. Then I cook. Karla is the best cook in the family, but she owns and runs Karlita’s Café at mile marker 10, so Sundays are her break from the kitchen.”

a man, woman and child posing for a picture on a boat
José Linares, left, who participated in the Southernmost Fatherhood Initiative in 2019, with wife Karla Campos and son Nathan, 3. CONTRIBUTED

“The most important ‘job’ a person with children has is parenting, but many take on the role without understanding what good, positive parenting actually looks like,” Davis said, ticking off some of the program’s takeaways: 

  • Improved communication with both the children and their mother. 
  • Recognition of a heated conversation that will benefit from a timeout to revisit the issue.
  • Acknowledging each child’s differences and understanding that parenting isn’t one-size-fits-all.
  • Understanding one’s own limitations as a dad.

“I’m really grateful to Billy Davis and the Southernmost Fatherhood Initiative for the relationships I now have with my kids, and would definitely recommend it for other dads,” Linares said.

The Southernmost Fatherhood Initiative is open to dads, stepdads and grandfathers with children under the age of 18, and is supported by the Monroe County Human Services Advisory Board, the Truist Foundation, the Batchelor Foundation, and private donors. It also offers support in the form of introduction to 12-step programs if needed, GED referrals, OSHA training, job coaching, construction job referrals and case management.

More information is available from Davis at 305-304-1969, or  

Carol Tedesco
Carol Tedesco wears multiple hats, sometimes one at a time; sometimes simultaneously: photographer, writer, publicist, and historic shipwreck professional. She moved to Key West in 1992 for the shipwrecks, and stayed for the phenomenal community, though she currently splits her time between Key West and Gainesville. "Like most working people in the Keys, spare time is really just an abstract idea for me, but fortunately I absolutely love my work," she said. "On any given day I might be interviewing a fascinating Keys author or artist, curating coins recovered from a sunken galleon, or photographing presidential descendants at the Truman Little White House - all this happening on a little 3x5 mile island!"