Akron effort helps fathers grow
|Fathers and Sons of Northeast Ohio is supported by the work of, shown from left, Donald Lykes, founder; Robert Germano, director of the Fatherhood Advocate Resource Center (FARC); the Rev. Jeff Ortiz, spiritual mentor; Steve Rozsa, chief financial officer; and Ulysses Williams, fatherhood educator and program manager of Patriot Place, one of the organization’s projects to help veterans.|
|Photo courtesy of Fathers and Sons of Northeast Ohio|
Lykes, an Akron resident and father of eight, started Fathers and Sons of Northeast Ohio in 2007 after he found there was a lack of services and support for men who are single fathers.
He said he was motivated by his own life to do something to help others like him.
“My biological father was absent from my life, and it played a really strong role in why I think Fathers and Sons is important,” he said. “My dad suffered from mental illness, through no fault of his own, and was a veteran. I think like a lot of men that illuminates the part of you that wants to be a good father. I was looking forward to it for a long time.”
Lykes first became a father at age 20.
“I started out as a good provider,” he said.
That was what the examples of fathers he knew showed him was important. But he also saw those same men taking part in some negative behaviors.
“They liked to party, they had extramarital relationships, they used alcohol, and that’s what I saw manhood entail,” he said. “A torch was passed to me and I carried it and I made probably a lot of people miserable. I began to make wrong choices that weren’t good for my long-term goals. After awhile, all that stuff catches up with you.”
A few years ago, Lykes became the sole caretaker of his two sons. The experience of navigating the courts and social service agencies was a new one to him and he was frustrated. But he was committed to being in compliance with the case plan established by Summit County Children Services, so he persevered.
“The option of not being in compliance is I would not see my children ever again, so I did what I needed to do to complete the case plan,” he said.
Some time later, while walking with his younger son, he realized that his hard work had paid off.
“He told me he was glad I was in his life,” Lykes said. “He said, ‘We really need each other, fathers and sons,’ and from that conversation a light bulb went off in my head.”
Lykes had experience as a community organizer and decided to put that to use on issues relating to fatherhood. His first goal was to mentor men who were working on a reunification plan with their children.
Fathers and Sons initially received support from attorney Michael Bowler and the Akron Community Foundation. Lykes used grant funding to purchase educational and training materials such as nationally recognized fatherhood curriculum.
Lykes said he gets the most questions from fathers about how to navigate the courts system.
“We get a call a day from a father who needs to know how to reconnect with his kids through domestic relations court,” he said. “They don’t know which court to go to. We have workshops helping them that are funded by the Akron Bar Foundation.
“These are very low-income fathers — they can’t afford attorneys,” he added. “They don’t have the money to pay the fees, don’t know how to file the paperwork and have no idea how to navigate the court. We spend the morning working with them and helping them to complete the paperwork, then we march them down to the courtroom, and they get their day in court.”
Lykes also has moderated at a support group for single fathers. The group currently does not meet, but he hopes to start that up again soon.
“They really need a support group among each other because it’s a new experience,” he said. “There’s some stress involved with becoming the primary caretaker.”
Lykes, who is also executive director of Fathers and Sons, said in recent years social service agencies have recognized the need for support for single fathers, and he’s happy to see that. One area that he does think needs to be addressed is the need for emergency housing for fathers with children.
He added that Fathers and Sons has touched the lives of about 1,500 men in Summit County since it was started. And he has seen firsthand how the program has made a difference in the lives of the men it helps.
“One of the places we teach is at Haven of Rest,” he said. “One of the guys there really got ahold of the program, and when I saw him doing that, I trained him as an educator. Now he goes back to the Haven of Rest. He’s a totally different person. Now he’s a community leader.
“Any time we can duplicate the good work we do with others, that helps our community,” Lykes added. “One person can’t do it alone.”
For more information on the organization, call 330-253-3451 or go to www.fathersandsonsneo.org.
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