Local program helps fathers be fathers

Article and photo reprinted with permission from the Marion Star 
Published June 16, 2013 by John Jarvis

When Richard G. Byrd Jr. heard about a program that would help him find work after months of being told by employers they wouldn’t hire him because he had a felony conviction, he had his doubts. “I wasn’t sure, but I was open-minded,” the 31-year-old Marion resident said.

Byrd had completed a jail term and an alcohol treatment program at West Central Community Correctional Facility in Marysville on Dec. 17, 2012, when his wife Bethany, his fiancee at the time, told him about the Fatherhood Program; she learned about the program through Head Start where their 4-year-old son Wyatt receives early childhood education.

Four months later, he has completed more than 90 days of employment at Sims Bros. Inc. and is sure of what the Fatherhood Program means to him.

“I was relieved,” he said without hesitation, “and I can provide now for my family. I don’t feel so worthless about myself. I can pay my bills.”

Through the Fatherhood Program, the Ohio Heartland Community Action Commission provides free services to fathers with the aim of promoting economic stability, responsible parenting and healthy marriages, Bonnie Howard, the program’s director, said. The program, which Ohio Heartland runs for Marion, Crawford, Morrow and Richland counties, is near the end of its second year, funded by a three-year federal grant.

Another Marion man, Chris Schwab, had been laid off five times in five years. The married father of three children wanted to improve his job security, and figured he would do it by returning to school to earn certification in programmable logic controllers, computers that are used for the automation of industrial processes. He didn’t have the money to get the additional education he needed, and didn’t know what to do. The pastor at his church, Richland Road Church of Christ, told him about the Fatherhood Program.

“It’s meant a great deal to me,” Schwab said. “They really helped me. They were going to put me through schooling for electronics and stuff, and then I ended up called back (to work at Union Tank Car). They bought me boots for work, a welding helmet, gas to help me get to and from work. … They helped me get my resumes updated, helped me with the job search. They did a ton of stuff for me and my family to get me back to working.”

“Our goal is to remove as many barriers as we can and make them more marketable,” Howard said. Helping to pay for certification training, cover up to half of on-the-job training costs, prepare resumes, learn how to do a job interview, provide a gasoline card until they’re employed and purchase equipment the father needs for his workplace are some of its services.

Alexandra Linder, Howard’s assistant, said the program is available to any resident in the four-county service area who is the father of a child less than 18 years of age “emotionally, financially.” The program has helped fathers, stepfathers and grandfathers.

“We just want them to know who we are,” Linder said. “We just want dads to know we’re out there. A lot of people just don’t know who we are.”

WSOS Community Action had success with its Fatherhood Connections program for Wood, Sandusky, Ottawa, Seneca and Hancock counties, and in partnership with Ohio Heartland CAC expanded the program to Marion, Crawford, Morrow and Richland counties, successfully applying for a federal grant.

The grant has provided $150,000 each of its first two years, but on Friday, Joe Devany, Ohio Heartland director, said he learned the amount of the grant for the third year has been reduced to $100,000.

“We’ll do as many as we can, but it will lessen our ability to apply some services,” Devany said. He estimated that instead of having funding designed to serve about 50 men the program will have funding to serve about 35.

“We’ll try to get the best bang for the buck we can for it,” he said.

The program offers services in addition to biological fathers to men who are a “father figure” to a child, or an “acting father,” Howard said. “What’s nice about the program is we’re pretty flexible. I even have a couple of grandfathers.”

She said the program helps its participants get back into the workforce or improve their employment situation and has assisted men in a range of circumstances.

“We have everything from someone who’s been married a number of years to some who’ve been divorced a couple of times with child support issues,” she said.

“Each dad is a full-time opportunity.”

Fathers join the program often through referrals from other agencies, but also as walk-ins, she said.

Howard and Linder do assessments of each applicant, determining barriers they face and developing a plan. One of the program’s curricula, 24/7 Dad, includes discussion “about everything from relationships with the mother of the child to how they discipline the child, how they interact with their child, being a better dad, financial budgeting, work readiness, work ethics; some may be employed part time and need something better, or they’ve had several jobs, so we try to determine, ‘Why are you job hopping?’”

In providing assistance for certificate training, the program works with Tri-Rivers Career Center in Marion County and North Central State College in Richland County, she said.

“We usually look at four-, six-, maybe eight-week classes because we can’t pay for a two-year technical degree,” she said, adding the program will help pay for participants to take the General Educational Development test.

Paying up to half of on-the-job training costs also encourages employers to hire dads in the Fatherhood Program.

“They like it,” Howard said. “We like it. I don’t have any input on who they hire. But it helps the dad because it’s kind of an incentive for the employer to help him get a job.”

The program also offers fathers a $50 bonus if they complete 30 days of employment with one employer, another $50 after 60 days, and another $50 after 90 days, and has reached a placement rate of 49 percent of its fathers who have obtained and kept a job with one employer for at least 90 days.

“We’re real proud of that,” she said.

Byrd said for months he had tried to get a job, contacting employers he’d heard were willing to hire people who had been convicted of felonies. But potential employers rejected him, citing his criminal record, which included a conviction on a fourth-degree felony charge of attempted abduction and a second-degree misdemeanor charge of domestic violence in April 2011.

“I’ve hunted and searched and was denied and shut down,” he said. “It was to the point I was fed up and wanted to quit trying. They’d tell me, ‘No, we can’t work with somebody with your background.’”

The Fatherhood Program helped him create a job resume, coached him in interviewing for a job, and put him in touch with Staffing Partners, which helped him pursue the job at Sims Bros. The Fatherhood Program purchased work clothes for him, including steel-toed boots and work overalls. When his car broke down, the program paid to get it fixed so he could continue to drive to and from work.

Bethany Byrd praised the Fatherhood Program for helping her husband re-enter the workforce.

“It’s done wonders,” she said. “If he’d had to do it all on his own, I don’t know if he’d have been working yet. There are a lot of people out there that don’t like to work with people that have a background.”

Schwab is another of the program’s success stories, Howard said. While happy he had back his $22-plus-an-hour job as a code welder with Union Tank Car, he felt badly he didn’t take the schooling to be PLC-certified, she said.

“So, basically what we did for him was give him the opportunity to get the training, which actually didn’t work out,” she said. “He had to take his job. He had to take that job opportunity. He was just sick about it.”

He said he’s grateful for the program and its thorough attention to someone who needed help, “the support throughout the whole deal, they were there every step of the way.”

Recalling when he learned of the program, he said, “I thought it was too good to be true. … When I talked to Bonnie, I thought this doesn’t seem real” and added that he particularly liked the self-help aspect of the program.

“It pays people to get back to work,” he said. “It’s not paying not to work.”

To sign up for the program, call Howard at 740-387-1039, extension 119, or Linder at extension 118; email bonnieh@ohcad.org or alexandra@ohcac.org.

For more information about Community Action programs in your area, visit www.oacaa.org. Note, not all Community Action Agencies offer Fatherhood programs.