A Father’s Place Nonprofit seeks to help build better dads

Fathers who have just been released from jail, are homeless, unemployed, never graduated from high school or are recovering drug addicts may think they can never have a relationship with their children, but a Georgetown nonprofit is working to give these men a second chance in their kids’ lives.

A Father’s Place, located at 107 Screven St., helps rebuild men and their connections with their children.

“Most people think these are just a bunch of deadbeat dads, but I’ve found out that’s not the case,” said Lisa Farmer, site director for AFP Georgetown. “They want to be connected with their children, they want to be responsible, they just need a second chance. But when you’ve already been given four or five chances, who wants to give you another one?

“We do,” she said.

“Dads matter,” said Wallace Evans Jr., executive director. “What other services are out there specifically for fathers, for men? They are such a critical component of healthy families. ... Too many children are over-mothered and under-fathered.”

The organization’s fatherhood program is designed around a six-month curriculum split into four parts: parenting, healthy relationships and economic stability, each studied for seven weeks, and men’s health, studied for four weeks.

The parenting program involves hands-on activities teaching dads, and sometimes mandated moms, to work with their children.

“A lot of times these parents, their children have already been removed or are in danger of being removed from the home. They are ordered to a program, but Ms. [Othelia] Britton makes it enjoyable, not a punishment,” said Farmer.

“I love my job because I love being able to help the guys,” said Britton, employability specialist and job recruiter. “I had sons with a similar situation and when I was helping those sons I didn’t have a good support system. Now I’m part of that system, and I can help others.”

Britton is also involved with the economic stability part of the program, which involves peer group sessions, a one-week job training boot camp, lessons on budgeting and job seeking.

“It’s really diverse because it’s not just about a job, it’s about financial stability,” said Farmer.

Some of the men enroll in GED or higher education classes during this portion of the program.

The men also spend time learning about forming and maintaining healthy relationships with the co-parent and domestic violence during the healthy relationships portion of the program.

The men participate in peer sessions throughout the curriculum, and one in particular during the healthy relationships portion that discusses expressing love.

Cregory Adams, intervention specialist, said of the peer sessions, “We engage with all of the issues [like jail time and overdue child support payments] to try to intercept them before they reach a crisis situation.”

Progress is measured by surveys the participants and the co-parents take that rate the status of their relationship on a scale from very hostile to very friendly.

The men’s health portion of the curriculum is the shortest, but it’s just as important because “fathers have to be there for their children, and that involves being alive,” said Evans.

The men learn about general health, such as the importance of attending a regular physician, sexually transmitted infections and diseases, and substance abuse for legal (alcohol and cigarettes) and illegal drugs.

The organization works with the men to set them up with services, such as finding a doctor with their medical insurance or establishing themselves with Medicaid. AFP also offers drug screenings to make sure the participants are drug free for the work force.

Outside of the curriculum, AFP also provides participants with transportation to and from their appointments related to the program, like job interviews, court dates, medical appointments and weekly peer group sessions.

George Mobley, transportation coordinator, said the best part of his job is “getting to see the guys every week, seeing the changes they go through from beginning to end. It’s a rewarding job.”

Mobley said his job has a personal connection.

“I am a former participant of a fatherhood program. I wanted to give back to this program, and to the guys who need help like I did.”

AFP was founded in Conway in 2000, and expanded to Myrtle Beach in 2007 and Georgetown in 2010. Four employees work at the Georgetown office.

Currently, 56 men are enrolled at the Georgetown location, although the numbers can fluctuate. Of them, 27 are voluntary participants, 11 are required by state and federal agencies and 29 are mandated through child support enforcement.

The average participant is 32 years old.

Evans said the success rate varies from person to person, regardless of whether they are mandated or voluntary participants, because each man sets difference goals for himself.

Farmer said watching the men meet their goals is a thrill for her.

“I’ve seen a relationship between the parents improve to the point where they are able to work it [visitation] out. Some fathers are custodian parents, or become them.”

The fathers pay nothing to participate. Enrollment is open to all men with children 18 years or younger who qualify.

“It’s not a hand out, though,” Evans said. “They have to do their part, they have to be a part of their child’s life.”

Data shows in Georgetown and Horry counties there are plenty of parents who aren’t involved with their children.

According to the Kid’s Count survey, 39.5 and 36.4 percent of children in Georgetown and Horry counties, respectively, live in single-parent homes. The data does not distinguish whether the absent parent is male or female, but the staff at AFP estimates most of the households are female-headed.

The organization is funded by the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families, Georgetown County United Way, Horry County United Way, Horry County, the Frances P. Bunnelle Foundation and a variety of other local supporters.

AFP’s fatherhood program is one of six that operate through the S.C. Center for Fathers and Families, and together they serve up to 1,600 fathers each year. In 2013, A Father’s Place served 191 fathers, potentially reaching 423 children.

Although AFP’s curriculum is expected to take six months, the statewide average length of participation is nine months.

But it doesn’t stop there.

“Once you’re in, you’re always in. This is a brotherhood of fathers,” Evans said.

AFP is always looking for volunteers, he said, many of whom are previous participants that come back as guest speakers.

New participants are accepted on a rolling basis. New participant orientation is held every Monday at 9 a.m.