Helping one father at a time in Sumter

BY ADRIENNE SARVIS
adrienne@theitem.com
Posted 6/17/18

Like most things in life, it may take more than one try to get the best results.

The staff and fathers involved with the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition know that.

The Fatherhood Coalition is specifically structured to assist fathers improve all …

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Helping one father at a time in Sumter

Posted

Like most things in life, it may take more than one try to get the best results.

The staff and fathers involved with the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition know that.

The Fatherhood Coalition is specifically structured to assist fathers improve all aspects of their lives so they can have lasting and meaningful relationships with their children, Midlands Fatherhood Coalition - Sumter Site Director Keith Ivey said.

The organization, based in Sumter, also serves fathers in Clarendon and Lee counties.

There aren't any other programs that focus solely on the man and father, Ivey said.

It doesn't matter if the man is unemployed, does not have a driver's license or is behind on child support, he said. There are outreach coordinators, job developers and intervention specialists on staff who can assist with all those issues. Or the father can be referred to another agency that can help, he said.

The Fatherhood Coalition removes all of the excuses, Ivey said. And all services are grant-funded and are, therefore, free for participants, he said.

It doesn't matter what mistakes the father made or if he wasn't present in the beginning of his child's life. He can still make a difference, he said.

How a person was raised can influence how they raise their own children, Ivey said, but a person can learn to break those chains.

The organization offers multiple courses aimed at helping fathers understand the importance of their presence in their children's lives and how to positively interact with their children, he said.

Core lessons of the program include parenting, healthy relationships, economic stability and men's health, he said.

In the parenting class, Ivey said, fathers learn about the legacy a father leaves with his children, the importance being involved in their child's education and the best ways to discipline their children.

"It doesn't matter how you start," he said. "It's how you finish."

While some fathers voluntarily seek help from the Fatherhood Coalition, Ivey said others receive a court order to go to the organization to avoid jail time for delinquent child support payments through an initiative called Alternative to Incarceration.

The ATI initiative - offered through a partnership with the State Department of Social Services and the family court system - gives fathers an opportunity to get back on their feet, stay in financial good standing and be with their children, he said.

Fathers could end up in an even worse situation if they are sent to jail for not making child support payments, Ivey said.

Many of the fathers who come to the coalition through the ATI program are just going through tough times, he said. They may have been laid off or had medical issues that have prevented them from working and making child support payments, he said.

Fathers have a responsibility, physically, emotionally and financially, as a man to be there for their children, Ivey said.

Another bright spot of the Fatherhood Coalition is the reunification of families, he said.

Ivey said this part of the program is especially beneficial to men who are seeking custody or visitation rights.

A father can receive a certificate of completion after taking courses with the Fatherhood Coalition, such as the parenting and healthy relationship courses, and give those certificates to their case manager in the hopes of helping their situations, he said.

And while the Fatherhood Coalition is geared toward helping men, Ivey said the organization is also taking steps to work with mothers to help both parents come together for the child.

The local branch was chosen by the national organization to conduct a pilot program called Understanding Dad that includes the mothers in the conversation so both parents can learn to properly work together to raise their children.

The Sumter location will be the only place in the state to offer the new program, he said.

Ivey's work with the Fatherhood Coalition started nearly 15 years ago in Richland County when he was introduced to the organization by a friend who was program director at the time.

After seeing how helpful the organization was in Richland County, Ivey thought his own neighborhood could benefit from the same opportunities. And with the help of friends, and city and county officials, the local organization was opened in 2016.

"It's been a blessing to me," said Ivey, a father of two sons, both 27, and twin daughters, 16.

He said working with the coalition has taught him there is still so much to learn about being a father, even after a decade.

"It really humbled me," he said.

There's something to learn about being a father, he said, each and every day.

For more information about the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition - Sumter, at 687 N. Guignard Drive, call (803) 774-2140 or email Keith Ivey at kivey@midlandsfathers.com.