Fatherhood initiative raising awareness

Eli Williams will devote more time to Clark County group.

Forty percent of Springfield fathers are considered absent, according to the American Community Survey.

The Fatherhood Initiative and Fatherhood Clark County is trying to change that statistic. The group wants to find ways to prevent fathers from leaving their children and to support and guide fathers that are around.

Fatherhood Clark County Director Eli Williams started talks with County Commissioner John Detrick in 2009 about what he saw as a countywide issue of father absence. Williams’ organization, Urban Light Ministries, had already been doing work with fathers in the area since 2006, but he felt like more needed to be done.

“We felt that to make more progress, we needed more people,” Williams said. “We needed a coordinated effort to tackle this issue because it is so large and so pervasive within our community.

These talks resulted in Detrick and the county commission agreeing to create the Clark County Fatherhood Commission.

The commission is made up of several leaders from around the community, including Williams and Detrick. Others included Executive Director at Clark County Family and Children First Council Marilyn Demma, Springfield City Schools Superintendent David Estrop, Director of Clark County Jobs and Family Services Bob Suver, Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Monin and Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland, who later joined later in the process.

The commission meets every quarter to set the direction for the initiative.

After the creation of the commission came the creation of the Healthy Fathering Task Force, which brings together leaders from different sectors of the community including Business, Civic, Community Activism, Education, Faith, Government, Health, Law Enforcement, Media & Entertainment, Philanthropic, and Social Services.

“The Healthy Fathering Task Force will help drive the ongoing work of this initiative,” said Williams.

According to Demma, Fatherhood Clark County has been absorbed into the Family and Children First Council because of their similar goals within the community.

There are two main activities within the initiative: the action plan to promote responsible fatherhood and the annual celebration, which was last weekend’s Fatherhood Fest.

The main goals for the initiative right now are to find community leaders to fill the Healthy Fathering Task Force sectors and to continue work on the action plan within the community while in the process raising awareness about fatherlessness in the community.

There are also half a dozen standalone resource kiosks around the city with information about the initiative and Fatherhood Clark County.

The initiative is doing so much work that Williams will have to take a step back from Urban Light Ministries and, effective July 1, will have the majority of his efforts focused toward the Fatherhood Initiative.

Williams likened the fatherlessness epidemic to poverty in that the work is ongoing and the cause of the problem needs to be looked at and not just the issue itself.

“It is just as much about changing the community as it is about changing the men in the community,” said Demma.

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