This story was produced in partnership with Bonobos for Fatherly + Bonobos Give Back, a program that aims to bring awareness to non-profits that make big differences for dads — non-profits like GOOD+ Foundation. For this partnership, we are telling the story of GOOD+, giving a combined $27,500 in cash to the non-profit, and then lending a hand, with teams from Bonobos and Fatherly volunteering for over 50 hours with GOOD+. To learn more about how you can get involved, go to bonobos.com.
Growing up in Far Rockaway, New York, Ronique Evans never really knew his father. “He was in and out of jail a lot,” says Evans, 21. “He really wasn’t part of my life.” A challenging childhood was exacerbated by the fact that Evans was not comfortable in school. “I wasn’t lazy, but I was troubled,” he says. “Growing up wasn’t easy.”
Things got more complicated this past year when Evans and his girlfriend learned they were having a child. Resources were limited and Evans needed help. “We were both really scared,” says Evans. “We felt like we did not have the proper support from anyone. We had a real grown-up discussion about life and how our new family was going to turn out. I didn’t want my future daughter growing up unhappy in a broken home without a father.”
Support arrived when Evans’ mom actually tagged him on a social post about a thing called the Fatherhood Academy. “She was like, ‘You should check this out.’”
Evans did just that, and discovered the CUNY Fatherhood Academy, a free program supported by GOOD+ Foundation that is designed to promote responsible parenting and economic stability for low-income fathers between the ages of 18 and 30. The three-month program helps participants work toward their high school equivalency test, along with parenting workshops, anger management courses, and the provision of crucial goods such as diapers and strollers.
Evans wasn’t 100 percent sure what he was signing up for when he made his first trip to the CUNY LaGuardia Community College campus in Queens for his first day. But he knew he needed help — and found a real lifeline with GOOD+ Foundation.
A Good Start for New Moms andDads
GOOD+ was launched in 2001 by new mother Jessica Seinfeld as a way to get her lightly-used baby supplies into the hands of mothers who could use them. By creating a pipeline between those with goods to donate and those who needed them, Seinfeld believed she could help alleviate some of the vast disparity in parenting resources found in cities like New York.
One product drive turned into another, and that turned into a fully-developed nonprofit that donates over $6 million in product donations to 125 program partners around the country every year. Yet as the organization grew, it started becoming clear that a large piece of the puzzle was missing. Social service programs offered strong supports for mothers and children in need — but where were the dads? “The more we did this work, the more it was obvious that the focus was on moms and kids,” says Katherine Snider, Executive Director of GOOD+ Foundation. “People would say, oh don’t bother asking about the dad, he’s not in the picture. I started to realize that the social service sector has a bias against fathers.”
Confronting stereotypes about fathers in low-income families was at the forefront of GOOD+ Foundation’s decision to launch its Fatherhood Program in 2010. “We needed to change the conversation,” says Snider. “There is this huge misconception that low-income dads are deadbeats. As we say in the field, they’re not deadbeats, they’re dead broke.”
When a father cannot provide for his family, she says, you see the first signs of separation from his partner and his children. Ironically, this separation is reinforced by many government policies that operate on the premise that all poor families are defined by a single mother and absent father. “Our system is set up in a way that dis-incentivizes people to co-parent,” says Snider.
Beyond the misconception that fathers don’t care or aren’t interested in raising their kids, another myth is that fathers don’t really matter in the bigger picture. Says GOOD+ Fatherhood Program Director Alan-Michael Graves, “There is a lack of understanding about the importance of a father in a child’s life, developmentally and in terms of life success. Science now shows measurable outcomes when a father is present, so we know it makes a big difference in a child’s chance to succeed.”
Beyond Goods and Services
While GOOD+ was conceived as a parental resource for essential products, its mission goes beyond the material. Through its select partners such as the CUNY Fatherhood Academy, the Fatherhood Program supports everything from parenting classes and mentoring to father-to-father workshops, something Alan-Michael Graves considers key to long-term success.
“Most of these fathers didn’t have a father of their own in their lives,” Graves says. “They need basic training in how to be a dad. How do you discipline a child? How do you sit down and have an important talk? If no one ever showed you, how would you know?” The program provides opportunities for men to share experiences and ask practical questions about dad stuff.
The initial carrot to get fathers involved in these programs may come from offering clothes and baby basics in exchange for participation, but the incentive to continue attending quickly becomes the children themselves. “When fathers see the change in their relationship with their kids, that’s the moment they commit to the program,” says Graves.
In its eight years of existence, the Fatherhood Program has grown to be a tremendously popular and hugely important component of GOOD+ Foundation’s mission. “It sounds really basic, but as soon as a noncustodial father had access to a supply of diapers through our Fatherhood Program, he had access to his kids again,” says Snider, pointing out that a single package of diapers costs the equivalent of two-hours pay at a minimum-wage job. Fathers who are able to contribute tangibly to a child’s needs are more likely to be accepted by the mother, says Snider, and subsequently have a better chance of being re-integrated into the family in the case of a broken marriage.
“There are so many fathers in the system who are trying to increase visitation rights or get custody of their kids,” says Graves. “You have case workers saying to them, ‘You don’t have a car seat, you don’t have a crib — you can’t have custody without these things.’ But those things are expensive, and it makes it very hard for fathers to navigate their way to be reunited with their children.”
A Good Future
Twelve weeks after Ronique Evans began attending the CUNY Fatherhood Academy, he enrolled in the Fatherhood College and Career Prep program. It’s something he knows his family is proud of, and he is grateful for all they have received through GOOD+. “I want my daughter to have a great life. So many people doubted me — they thought I was going to grow up to be a bad person, but I proved so many wrong. Words can’t express how thankful I am to the Fatherhood program staff and GOOD+ Foundation. I honestly believe I would have been in jail a long time ago because I had no idea how I was going to get the money I needed to buy diapers.”
From his training, Evans says he has learned a lot about how to handle tricky situations with his partner (“The lesson is to stay as calm as possible and be as nice as possible — it’s never easy but it’s very important”), and most importantly, he’s gathered the skills necessary to set him on the road to positive parenting. “I’ve learned being a good father comes down to hard work and experience,” says Evans. “You have to experience the bad things to know what to do better the next time. I am still going to make mistakes, but now I know how to learn from them.”