Organization bringing fathers together with their children

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Many people attribute crime and violence in the United States to a lack of a father figure in many criminal’s lives from an early age. But one group in South Bend is doing their part to change this.

Fathers First held a picnic at Clay Township Park Sunday, to bring local fathers together to better the lives of their children.

“The whole mission of Fathers First is to reestablish and remind the young fathers in our community of their vital role and irreplaceable part of the family structure,” Daniel Marshall, Organizer of Fathers First said. “We hope to bring fathers together, lower violence in the community and at the same time it will help the growth in these young kids’ lives.”

The National Fatherhood Initiative says one out of every three children in America live in biological father absent homes. And studies say the lack of a father figure in the household does impact children as they grow up. In a 2002 Department of Justice Survey of 7,000 inmates, 39 percent say they grew up in mother only households. So Fathers First is trying to stop this.

My father went to prison when I was young and wasn’t in my life,” Jeermal Sylvester, former Riley High School and Ball State University basketball star said. “I remember coming out of the locker room and looking up in the stands to see where my father was and he wasn’t there.”

The goal is to be a positive influence on their children’s lives so they don’t make the same mistakes they may have made or go down the wrong path into crime or violence.

“They look at older folks as role models,” Jermaine Wilks, father of six said. “I just want to be a part of my kids’ lives the best I can.”

There’s not an instruction manual,” Dominic Zultanski, Lieutenant of the South Bend Police Department said. “Not every father knows how to be a father. The younger generations of males here need to see that a father needs to be a father before he needs to be anything else.”

Many of the fathers Sylvester has spoken with feel if they can’t support their children financially than they don’t feel they can adequately raise them.

“The clothes, the shoes, the kids will outgrow,” Sylvester said. “I don’t remember what I got for Christmas when I was four. I remember the time my dad and I sat down and talked. Those are the things that stick and are what we need to do as a community.”

The issues of having a male role model in these children’s lives affects more than just their learning and cognitive ability. It could affect their life if they get involved with the wrong crowd. A study of INTERPOL crime statistics says that single parenthood ratios were strongly correlated with violent crimes.

“Some kids might not have something to look forward to,” Marshall said. “That’s the reason some kids choose gangs and other things to go do. I’m not going to lie, if they had a father, they would at least have that initial contact before they choose something else.”

Fathers First is organizing several events over the course of the next few months including a trip to a Silver Hawks game. They’re doing this to give fathers something to do with their child so they can bond.

“We need to take our kids out of the living room and take them to the park or take them to the duck pond and just spend time,” Sylvester said. “It’s not the money, not the shoes, not the cars, it’s the time. And we all got time.”

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