MISSION: Fathers’ Support Center works to improve the lives of children by bettering the father-child relationship. Fathers enroll for at least one year of program involvement, which starts with an intense six-week course meant to grow family, communication, relationship and employment skills.
With lofty goals to reach, the program is intensely structured: Classes run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., five days per week, says president and CEO Halbert Sullivan. Specific training seminars revolve around topics like parenting, computer skills and child abuse prevention. Fathers volunteer to gain job experience and are sent on job interviews. These services are available at four area locations, with an additional night course for employed fathers available at the organization’s headquarters.
HISTORY: Founded in 1997, Fathers’ Support Center has served some 9,000 area fathers with an 80 percent success rate of improving the family structure through increased interaction.
“While I am one of the founders, this wasn’t my idea,” Sullivan says, explaining that Doris Stoehner and Sue Breslauer fashioned the concept. “Their main goal was to impact teen pregnancy. When they got with me, I said I wasn’t interested—all they had was an idea,” Sullivan says. At the time, he was working as a social worker and dealing with one particular case where the home life of an adolescent was having an obvious negative impact on his life. “Dealing with that case made me to rethink my decision. I was able to see first-hand the impact of not having a responsible father in the home.”
COMMUNITY IMPACT: By increasing the valuable father-child relationship, Fathers’ Support Center is able to positively impact the lives of area children. With many involved referred to the program—often through word-of-mouth, family court or parole—the Center aids men by providing a variety of training opportunities, along with employment-seeking assistance. Much like a job, those involved must adhere to strict rules during the six-week program. Sullivan explains that anyone who tests positively on a drug test is assigned to an outpatient substance abuse program. Hats, long T-shirts and sagging pants are not allowed, and by certain points in the program, beards must be shaved, hair must be trimmed and ties must be worn. Anyone late too often is let go. “We’re preparing them for employment,” Sullivan says. “They get six weeks of practice at being on time.”
The program wraps up with a graduation ceremony. “We try to make a big deal out of this graduation,” Sullivan says. “Many of our guys had never completed anything. Many folks will let you know, if you can last here for six weeks, you can pull off almost any other accomplishment.”
ANNUAL ‘A TOAST TO FATHERS’ DINNER, JUNE 13, AT WINDOWS ON WASHINGTON.
The annual dinner will showcase the remarkable outcomes of the Fathers’ Support Center through awards such as the Father of the Year and Community Champion. Two days later, in early celebration of Father’s Day, the group will hold its 17th Annual Fatherhood Walk/5K Run and Rally in Tower Grove Park.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED: To help the Fathers’ Support Center or to learn more, call 333-4170 or visit fatherssupportcenter.org.
ON THE BOARD: JEFF MILLER JR.
St. Louis native Jeff Miller Jr. joined the Fathers’ Support Center board about a year ago. He originally worked with the group because of senior development officer Stephen Knapp, who requested Miller help grow the organization’s image. Miller wrote and produced a video, improved the website and created print materials for the Center, and upon completion, he was asked to join the board.
“These guys come into the program, and some may have never seen their children,” Miller says. “Six weeks later, they come out excited and devoted to their family. It’s an incredible transformation.”
While Miller finds the personal benefits to the fathers important, he also explains that by improving these men, the organization is improving society as a whole. Fathers’ Support Center reports that children with uninvolved fathers are “nine times more likely to not graduate from high school” and “20 times more likely to go to prison.” Miller says that this can be a “big drain on society” due to, if nothing else, the financial consequences. However, at the end of the day, the program is there to help children. “We’re fixing uninvolved dads, yeah, but we’re giving these kids their dad back.”
This St. Louis Country Day School graduate left St. Louis to attend Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. His background is in advertising and marketing, and he has previously worked for Kenrick Advertising, Glennon and, most recently, Adamson Advertising. Along with Fathers’ Support Center, Miller is a board member for The Sheldon Arts Foundation and St. Andrew's Resources For Seniors System, and formerly for St. Luke's Hospital. He also is a vestry member at The Church of St. Michael & St. George.