CWLA, a diverse community of professionals entrusted with the well-being of children, recently highlighted the work of The Father Center of New Jersey, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary of strengthening families by strengthening fathers. CWLA granted TrentonDaily permission to share the following excerpt from its conversation with CEO Karen Andrade-Mims.
What is The Father Center of New Jersey?
The Father Center of New Jersey (TFCNJ) originally began as an orphanage in 1859 as Union Industrial Home for Destitute Children of Trenton. The primary focus was on the residential care of vulnerable youth. Fast forward to 1993, the organization applied for federal grant funding to become a pilot program that served fathers who were unemployed or under-employed and unable to meet their child support obligations. Operation Fatherhood was born and over the next few decades, there were name changes and program shifts that ultimately led to our current iteration of The Father Center of New Jersey.
TFCNJ has two locations, one in Mercer County, New Jersey and one in Burlington County, New Jersey. These offices are programming hubs that address the needs of adult and adolescent males ages 14 through 60. Teen boys are mentored and supported through leadership development and making healthy choices to prevent premature fatherhood. Adult men are offered workforce development activities, case management, and instruction in parenting to bolster child well-being. Our goal is to promote father inclusiveness and to strengthen father engagement with their families whenever possible.
How does The Father Center of New Jersey serve its community?
The Father Center of New Jersey provides a comprehensive array of programs and services to upwards of 500 fathers and men annually in our communities. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our offices were closed and the majority of the programs were held virtually. As we have emerged from the complete shut-down like many organizations, our work is now done using a hybrid platform. Virtual technology allows us to reach potential clients from across the state. Our workforce development program, Bridges2Success, is comprised of a series of virtual and in-person trainings that lead to certifications in various industries such as Serv Safe Food Handler; OSHA 10 hour and 30 hour; Customer Service; NJ Forklift and CDL Driver.
Additionally, we offer online parenting education using National Fatherhood Initiative’s 24/7 Dads curriculum and anger management classes using the Choice-based Anger curriculum. Dress2Impress is our in-house clothing program whereby all program participants are given gently-used men’s professional or business casual clothing and shoes to prepare them for the interview or work site. TFCNJ also serves the next generation of fathers through our Healthy Relationships Healthy Choices program. This is a prevention program for boys at Trenton school district’s Ninth Grade Academy that builds leadership skills, explores career options, promotes academic achievement and healthy relationship choices.
Why is it so important to focus on fathers as a population?
It is so important to focus on fathers because children need the guidance, love and involvement of both parents. Yet, there are many more programs and services available to support mothers. Research by the Institute for Family Studies and others have shown that when fathers are involved and engaged in the lives of their children, even when they are not living in the home, the children do better in multiple areas. Fathers matter because when they are absent, children experience higher rates of poverty; juvenile delinquency; school failure; involvement with drugs and/or alcohol; low self-esteem; gang activity; and even prison.
How did you become involved with The Father Center of New Jersey?
I became involved with The Father Center of New Jersey over twenty-five years ago when the organization was still called Union Industrial Home. My professional interest has always centered on serving youth and families. In those early years, I became a member of the Board of Directors. When the opportunity presented itself, I stepped down from the Board and applied for the role of Executive Director. Since May 2008, I have been privileged to be at the helm of TFCNJ, a historically relevant organization that has become a significant leader in the fatherhood movement.
What is on the horizon for The Father Center of New Jersey?
2023 marks our 30th anniversary of strengthening families by strengthening fathers. We are planning a year-long series of events, activities and social media blasts to celebrate this milestone. Our annual fundraiser, Platinum Dads, which is held in June, will be a special family fun day event in partnership with a local fitness and wellness center. We will continue to raise our visibility and emphasize the importance of the role of fathers in families and in the lives of their children.
Currently, The Father Center of New Jersey is engaged in a strategic planning process that will consider, among other things, expanding our footprint into other counties throughout New Jersey. We recognize that fathers everywhere can benefit from services that are geared just for them.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about The Father Center of New Jersey’s work?
The work of The Father Center of New Jersey was enhanced a few years ago when leadership and staff made the decision to become a trauma-informed organization. Undergoing a rigorous pre-certification process using the Sanctuary Model, developed by Dr. Sandra Bloom and her team, TFCNJ is able to help fathers acknowledge their trauma and seek healing support that allows them to move forward in their lives.
Visit www.thefathercenter.org for more information.