Midlands Fatherhood Coalition held its first graduation in Sumter on Thursday evening after establishing a site in the county two years ago.
The graduates, from Sumter, Lee and Clarendon counties, who were recognized on Thursday completed a six-month program that helps fathers become more active in their children's lives through attending classes that focus on parenting and building healthy relationships.
Keith Ivey, Sumter site director, described the fatherhood coalition as a family that assists other families.
"No matter what happens we always rely on family," Ivey said.
The fatherhood coalition is here to help heal and guide each person who comes through the door, he said.
"We make it personal," he said. "This is not a business."
The goal is for participants to be successful in their personal and professional lives, Ivey said.
Before recognizing the graduates, the audience heard from Keito Jordan, a man who completed the fatherhood coalition program before becoming employed with the organization.
Jordan said deciding to participate in the fatherhood coalition's program was the first time he felt he made a step in the right direction to become the father he always wanted to be.
Jordan said he met his father for the first time when he was 17, when his father was dying of AIDS. He said that encounter destroyed him although it was an opportunity for his father to find relief by apologizing for his absence.
He said he did not understand what it meant to be a good father because he grew up without a father figure.
Jordan said he got to know one of his daughters eight hours a weekend for the first two years of her life because he was incarcerated.
He joined the fatherhood program at 23 after he was released.
People who join the fatherhood coalition come for different reasons but leave with the same reward, he said. You become better men and better fathers, he said.
However, after completing the program, Jordan did not change his way of life although he thought he was doing better.
"I thought being a father was at the end of my knuckles and the bottom of my pocket," he said. But it's internal, he said.
Jordan said he finally realized that he had not become a good role model for his children one day when he and his daughter were at a restaurant when he was 30. He said he cried that day and for days after that.
After that realization, Jordan contacted his mentors with the fatherhood coalition program and began to make positive changes to his life.
He said he may not be able to leave his children with material things, but he will leave behind a value system so his future generations will also succeed.
Jordan said his journey with the fatherhood coalition allowed him to say that his struggles became his gift.
He encouraged the other graduates to stay in contact with their mentors and to continue improving themselves for the benefit of their families and communities.
Although the organization is called the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition, classes are also open to women.
A few mothers received awards on Thursday evening for completing parenting classes. The coalition also recognized a woman who received custody of her two sons while completing parenting classes as well as a couple that managed to save their marriage.
Employees of Sumter County Judicial System and South Carolina Department of Social Services were also recognized for partnering with the program and assisting participants.
Ivey said the coalition would not be as successful if not for the help of partnering agencies which help keep families together, keep parents out of jail and help participants find jobs.
Ivey said the fatherhood coalition has also partnered with Sumter School District to create a new program that helps fathers become more active in their children's education. He said the program is only offered at Willow Drive Elementary School now, but he hopes to extend the program to Crosswell Elementary School soon.
For more information about Midlands Fatherhood Coalition and its programs, go to www.scfathersandfamilies.com.