It Takes a Village in This City to Train and Support Unemployed Fathers: A Dedicated Leader, Her Staff, and Virtual Volunteers are Doing It!

There are as many ways to volunteer in Trenton as there are interests and needs. Take parenting, for example, or, more specifically, fatherhood. Fathers, like all of us, need support and assistance too.

When my mother died of cancer when I was seven years old, my maternal aunts and my father raised my older sister, my younger brother and me. My dad, still in his thirties, and one of very few young widowers at my choir recitals, held down a full time government job, worked overtime, and took on a part time job as well, to pay the mortgage and other bills, and to pay our relatives to take care of us during the week, picking us up on the weekends. Needless to say, years later, he also died too young. An all but impossible task back then, before time and society made the reality of single fatherhood—”The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”, “Family Affair”, and “My Three Sons” notwithstanding—a welcome, familiar staple of series TV.

I was thinking of this a few years ago when I picked up a “Dress 2 Impress” flyer from a UIH exhibit table at a community fair sponsored by a university in downtown Trenton. As a volunteer manager, I was there to recruit more volunteers to my program. So was UIH Family Partners. Formerly known as the Union Industrial Home for Children, the oldest child welfare agency in New Jersey, (and now rebranded as The Father Center of NJ), was accepting  “gently used” suits and mens’ business wear for job seekers in their training program. Donating ready-to-wear business attire is an excellent introduction to volunteerism. Years before, I had initiated several business clothing drives for organizations that serve unemployed women.

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Karen Andrade-Mims, Executive Director of The Father Center of NJ, our state’s longest serving nonprofit. A distinguished recipient of the YWCA’s Tribute to Women Awards in 2015, with a Masters degree in Public Administration from Rutgers University, and an active volunteer through Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Ms. Andrade-Mims, a board member of UIH Family Partners, rose from Interim Executive Director to Executive Director of the organization in 2008.

With its mission of “empowering New Jersey’s men, fathers, and families to achieve self-sufficiency”, Ms Andrade-Mims said that The Father Center of NJ “(meets the participants) where they are. With an 80% record of success, 35-40% of participants are able to get jobs at least five dollars above minimum wage. Many earn certificates (of) employment in food handling, Microsoft Office, and OSHA certification. (Others) have gotten jobs at companies in the area, like 1911 Smokehouse, and larger companies like Amazon, and with businesses that don’t reject those with a criminal history.”

The “Dress to Impress” staff provides interview practice, and takes a professional headshot of each job seeker for them to post on their LinkedIn profile and online job search sites. Free computer literacy instruction is also available.

Support for participants is key. The “Bridge to Success” component offers small group support to fathers. Some participants may also need referrals to other programs for drug treatment. Every June, the “Platinum Dads” celebration and fundraiser “honors men who demonstrate exemplary fatherhood through a commitment to their families and communities.”

On Saturday June 19, 2021 at 10:00 a.m., the organization will hold its 16th Annual Platinum Dads Awards Celebration, where men will be honored, in the presence of family and friends, as Platinum Dads, and one man will become the Legacy of Fatherhood awardee.

“Even during  the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic when  in-person volunteering was on pause, The Father Center of NJ was able to pivot, by moving its training  online. Some volunteers worked remotely with HR, marketing and other administrative support,” said Ms Andrade-Mims.

An innovative, proactive leader, Karen Andrade-Mims is considering the possibility of virtual expansion to other counties throughout New Jersey, (TFP currently serves Mercer and Burlington counties), or national OSHA certification for jobs outside of New Jersey.

“It’s important for me to serve others, no matter what they’re facing”, she says. 

Why would she choose the Human Services profession and service to other Trentonians, and inspire others to serve as well? I thought, looking over my notes next to my cell phone.

“It’s gratifying”, she said, a smile in her voice.