Fatherhood Initiative creates path out of poverty

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March 24, 2012
— Jarrell Knight said he’s accomplished more in the last two months than the last two years.

“The past two years, I did nothing. I had a job a while back,” he said.

For a variety of reasons, the job didn’t work out.

Two months ago, the 26-year-old single father of a 9-year-old boy learned about the Fatherhood Initiative. The program offered by Community Action of Rock and Walworth Counties gives job skills training, coaching and mentoring.

He applied and was accepted.

Knight found a job 60 days into the three-month program and said he feels more responsible.

The Fatherhood Initiative received start-up dollars from Stateline United Way in August 2007 and earlier this month received a $5,000 Stateline Community Foundation grant, said Lynn Jones, employment and training director at Community Action.

“Without the local support, the program would not be able to continue,” she said.

Most participants are referred through the criminal justice system. They spend three months learning about parenting, nutrition, maintaining positive relationships and financial management, said Erick Williams, program manager.

Among the last 12 program graduates, eight have found employment and one is in school, he said.

“It’s an empowering program,” Williams said.

Each year he program serves about 45 stateline area or Rock County fathers who are either underemployed or unemployed, have child support obligations and are living at poverty income levels.

Based on the last three years of data, Jones said, the Fatherhood Initiative has recovered $62,717 in child support payments, paid more than $25,000 in legal obligations such as fines to local municipalities and found 291 jobs for unemployed dads.

“Now they’re taxpayers. It’s a win-win situation,” Williams said.

Knight said he enrolled wanting to better himself, find a job and build a work history.

Tapping into what he learned, Knight applied for a job two weeks ago, interviewed for the job Wednesday and was hired 90 minutes later.

“I was ecstatic. I’m ready to go to work,” he said.

Knight said the $16 an hour he’ll earn at the local heating and plumbing business will help all around.

“It’s a decent job with decent pay and perfect at this point in my life. When I started this program, I was looking to get any job. What more could you ask for with an economy like this? It’s going to help everything I got going on in my life,” he said.

The biggest challenge for Knight during his participation in the Fatherhood Initiative was himself, he said.

“You have to stay on task,” he said.

Knight, who was arrested on a drug charge when he was 19 and spent five years in prison, said that the most important thing the Fatherhood Initiative taught him is dedication.

“I get up every day, got somewhere to go and to be part of something positive.”

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