Never in a million years would I have believed that men who had failed themselves and their families in every way possible would be working, paying child support, and in many cases visiting with their children. We have five visionary women to thank for this: Tammie Colon and Sandy Monfort from Coleman; Lisa Merkle and Mary Ann Murphy from Child Support Enforcement; and Marilyn Horstman from Job and Family Services. They decided to try an experiment based on the success they were all having connecting members of the community with multiple agencies at the monthly Open Gate program. “Why don’t we try to reach out to some of the men who are struggling with mental illness and addiction and who owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in child support?” Lisa Merkle suggested. And that is what they all did. Their first group of men owed over a million dollars in unpaid child support. In other words, they didn’t begin with the easy end of the list.
Not everyone they invited took them up on their offer but a few did and slowly they collected a group of 8 men who made up the first group of – Fathers Accountable for Children’s Tomorrow – FACT. Not everyone who joined in that first group of men was successful but they experienced enough success which they defined as achieving three simple goals: 1. Show up for treatment and groups; 2. Get a job; 3. Make payments to support your children. It was the first time for many of these men that anyone had actually invested any time and effort into them or believed that they could be better than they were. These women became surrogate mothers who nurtured and helped these gentlemen become responsible. Their vision is working!
In fact, it is working so well that they approached the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board to provide a grant to hire a coach / navigator to help them with the increasing number of men who wanted to get their lives straightened out. Jullian Griesheimer was hired as the first FACT Navigator and she has taken the program to the next level. She becomes the sixth brave woman!
The program was considered so innovative and so far out of the box that it won a national award from the National Association of Child Support Enforcement Agencies – recognized as a national model. Here’s why:
There are currently 51 active participants in the program.
Child Support payments in 2014 (12 months) - $31,963.37
Child Support payments in 2015 (6 months) - $33,903.92 – On track to collect over $66,000.00 this year which is more than double the collection of last year.
37% of the men are employed
16% are ready for employment
47% are actively working toward employment
12 of the men have begun the process of establishing visitation with their children
Many of these men are not only re-establishing relationships with their children but also re-establishing relationships with the mothers of their children. It's a miracle!
This year the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board is expanding the grant to include a second FACT Navigator to reach out to Auglaize and Hardin Counties.
I asked Jullian what she had learned in her year of working with these men that most people regarded as beyond hope. She told me, “I love these guys but it takes 6 to 8 months to build a relationship of trust with them. Then it takes another 3 – 6 months for it to become strong. These men have no credibility with their families and have an already established ‘street reputation.’ The most important thing I learned is that these men desperately want to be active in the lives of their children but do not have the knowledge or the resources to know how.” Then she added, “I love this job.”
What a ray of hope for the children in 51 families in our community. Children who may never have known their father, now have hope. It might not have happened if it hadn’t been for six brave women.