By Katie Sobiech
“Our mission is to help men become better fathers,” Donald Lee Lykes, Lead Fatherhood Education Facilitator, said of Fathers and Sons of Northeast Ohio (FSNO).
Supporting single fathers and at-risk young men to become strong, nurturing parents is the foundation of what they do. They accomplish this by mentoring and educating men through workshops and a training curriculum.
“We help remove the barriers that prevent them from practicing responsible fatherhood. That can be helping them get jobs, stay sober, or cleaning up some records from the past, (such as) child support issues,” Lykes said.
Reaching out to “At Risk” Men
“Our focus is almost exclusively on low income fathers – men who have what we call ‘challenges’, some would call them problems. They’re at risk,” Lykes said.
Unwed fathers are helped to gain visitation and get court orders for parenting time.
This opens up the doors to fathers having a presence in their children’s lives.
“In the state of Ohio if you are not married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth you have no legal rights to visit the child. There are a lot of fathers paying child support but the mom may not allow them to visit,” Lykes explained.
Education is the main component of FSNO.
They deliver their curriculum to the Oriana House, the Community Correction Facility, where they graduate at least 350 guys a year, and the Haven of Rest, where they graduate about 75 guys each year.
Workshops are held teaching men everything from how to fill out applications for housing, to learning how to navigate the court, to creating email addresses and resumes.
“We have case plans at Children’s Services and help them understand how to comply with the case plan. We do some court coaching and help them navigate the system. (Being low income) many of them don’t know that a lot of services are free to them, like a lawyer,” Lykes said.
Sobriety is probably the number one issue that they see as a barrier between men being good fathers.
“Fifty-eight percent of the guys who have case plans with CSB or Children’s Services Child Welfare have issues with some kind of substance abuse. Some have issues with past criminal history, and housing is a big issue,” Lykes explained.
“There is a lack of housing for men who are becoming primary caretakers of their children here in Summit County. I’ve been a single dad for 24 years. That was a big issue for me then and hasn’t changed,” he continued.
Creating a Plan
“When they come to our office we have a mentoring task list and ask the dad ‘What do you want to do? What goals do you have and how can we help you accomplish them?’ Instead of saying ‘This is what you have to do’,” Lykes explained.
Several young men have completed the program and gone off to college. Other men have been employed by Fathers and Sons.
“Let me say to you that without (Donald) and the Fathers and Sons program I don’t think that I would have the knowledge that I now have concerning just how important it is to open up and man up to the father I was. This program has offered me the chance to better myself as a father, while showing me that it’s never too late to make the right actions,” Anonymous, Veterans of Ohio.
Close to Home
Mentoring is also a key component to what they do.
“Fatherhood has tremendously impacted my life. I think about how I didn’t have a dad and I stayed in a children’s home. There’s so many things that really affected my life,” Lykes said.
He was even homeless.
“To be honest I visited the Haven of Rest on and off for about 10 years. I can’t say enough about them. I was mixed up, dealing with addiction and alcoholism, had got a divorce. That really bothered me emotionally but through my journey I knew that fatherhood was important to me,” Lykes said, through tears, “I’m getting emotional. So I filed for visitation of my children and made sure they had the opportunity.”
“We want to touch the lives of every man in Summit County. I believe we can. It’s amazing when people get together, what they can do. This is something that I believe my God called me to do,” Lykes said.
They are currently looking to hire mentors. For more info. on Fathers and Sons please visit http://www.fathersandsonsneo.org.