For Jennifer Baker, an investment in fathers as a path toward entrepreneurship started with a single conversation.
At an April 2014 gathering of half a dozen local businesspeople, Baker got feedback on her desire to create an organization supporting father engagement in the lives of their children. The positive response she received from that discussion led to Good Dads Inc., which became a 501(c)(3) in May 2015.
The organization facilitates engagement for fathers and their kids through affordable activities in the community, supporting school initiatives such as All Pro Dad, and developing programs with local trucking companies to recognize and support driver dads.
In her work as a therapist for more than 25 years, including time directing a clinic of the School of Professional Psychology at Forest Institute, Baker says many of the children she saw were coming from homes without a father present. She says numerous societal issues, such as behavioral problems, suicide, substance abuse and teen pregnancy, are connected to father absence. Good Dads was a way to serve what Baker saw as a need in the community, but without just zeroing in on a single demographic.
“I just felt that the other models working with fathers that I knew about in the country were predominantly focused on low-income dads and minority populations. And goodness knows, there’s a definite need for that in urban sectors,” she says. “My frustration was this is not an urban area.”
Baker says she knew acquiring support from other businesses would be vital to getting the organization off the ground. Thus, a number of partners that believe in the programs cause, including Great Southern Bancorp Inc. and Rick’s Automotive Inc., signed on. Today, business partnerships number around 30, Baker says, ranging from $500 to $3,000 a year.
First-year expenses were kept around $20,000. Another big boost came when Great Southern, which owns the West Walnut Street building where Good Dads is located, renegotiated the lease in spring 2017 for $722 per month, utilities included.
Last summer, Baker applied for a contract by the state that funds responsible fatherhood services, such as education, support, coaching and mentoring. As the lone contract recipient in southwest Missouri, Good Dads will receive $135,000 a year, she says.
Annual events, such as the inaugural Good Dads Night Out in June, are becoming a larger part of the organization’s plans. Baker is optimistic about the future and making connections with more fathers. She notes some males in their childhood might have had a father who was absent and disinterested, which could lead to similar behavior from them in their own child’s life. But she says Good Dads provides a continuously positive message of fathers having fun experiences with their children as a way to overcome obstacles of absence and family instability.
“If you can get men in the room, they often want that help,” she says. “But you can’t talk down to them, you can’t talk to them as if there’s something wrong with them. It has to be about a way that will help them be more successful in life and with their kids.”
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