Posted on 10/22/2013 at 02:54 PM by YMCA of Greater Des Moines
Passion exudes with each sentence Mike Carver speaks about fatherhood.
For more than 40 years, Carver has worked long and hard hours to help build up connections between fathers and their children and families.
But it was at a recent Fatherhood Initiative meeting at the YMCA of Greater Des Moines where he knew for sure his efforts have been successful.
“A man stood up during the meeting and said that just that day, because of the efforts he had made to change his life around, a judge granted his request to once again have contact with his children,” Carver said. “This man had accomplished something most of us just take for granted – the opportunity to be with his kids.
“That made every minute I have worked with this initiative worth it. We are making a difference in men’s lives, and thus, in their children’s lives.”
Carver is quick to point out that many of the accomplishments that the YMCA Fatherhood Initiative has made are due, in large part, to Jeanne Nesbit.
“Our work in this area would not have been possible without Jeanne’s efforts,” he said.
For Nesbit’s part, she became committed to this effort after giving a presentation at Moulton Elementary School in Des Moines.
“Afterwards, a little girl came up to me and said, ‘Dads don’t pay child support because they don’t love their children.’” Nesbit recalled. “I couldn’t walk away from that.”
Because of their efforts with the YMCA Fatherhood Initiative, Carver and Nesbit are being honored with the YMCA of Greater Des Moines’ 2013 Service to Community Award.
The pair first started working together on the need for more focus on responsible fatherhood in 2001 while working on a Governor’s Responsible Fatherhood Task Force. As a response to the challenges in the task force report, the two helped to form the Polk County Fathers and Families Coalition, which lead to partnering with the YMCA in 2007 to launch the Fatherhood Initiative program. This program offered fatherhood classes at the John R. Grubb Community YMCA as well as other activities for fathers and their children.
After five years, the program’s director left and Carver and Nesbit again helped bring about new programming for the Fatherhood Initiative at the YMCA. State Senator Jack Hatch provided a boost for the program when he obtained much-needed state funding.
“Ultimately all of these programs and taskforces come down to one basic goal – we want to involve fathers in their lives of their children,” Nesbit said. “As we looked for a community partner for the program, the Y just made a lot of sense to us. Not only is the Y, with its branches across the city, a safe place to go, but the Y’s mission statement made it the perfect partner.”
Connecting fathers back into their children’s lives is a daunting task. In Des Moines, approximately one-third of households are single-parent families and that percentage more than doubles for the African-American community.
The YMCA Fatherhood Initiative draws men from all over the state of Iowa. The voluntary program has also had an impressive success rate. While many of the participants have served prison time, now 65 percent of those individuals have contact with their children. And more than $424,000 in child support has been repaid.
“Our dream is that every child has a mom and a dad who are focusing on the child’s wellbeing,” Nesbit said.
“The Y can be a focal point in the community, actually a beacon, when it comes to fatherhood,” Carver said. “The stakes are too high not to place a lot of focus on helping men to be loving and responsible fathers.”