Saturday, April 30th, 2011
By Amy Kronenberger
County officials join fatherhood effort
  Mercer County has joined 11 other Ohio counties in a pilot project to address the importance of a father in a child's life.
The Ohio Commission on Fatherhood is leading the initiative, which will include training, a leadership summit and community projects.
Commission director Tracy Robinson asked his friend, Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeff Ingraham, about the area being a pilot county. He wanted a balance of urban, suburban and rural counties; Mercer would be the most rural.
"I am excited about Mercer because it's a nice, small county," Robinson said. "Everything is nice and neat. If people there don't know each other, they know of each other."
Ingraham said he had a positive response from those he contacted to be part of the project. They include leaders from 11 agencies, such as social services, child support, education and faith-based groups, as well as individuals in the community.
"If we can put the family back together and put the father back in the home as the spiritual and social leader of that home, we might really make a difference and reduce the costs of social programs like child support," Ingraham said.
Robinson hopes to eventually get all 88 Ohio counties involved. The Buckeye state was the first to start a fatherhood initiative and the idea of starting at the county level instead of targeting inner-cities and urban areas is original.
Mercer is the only county involved in the pilot program that does not have some type of father-specific program.
According to a study by the National Fatherhood Initiative, Mercer County has a 16.7 percent father absentee rate compared to the state average of 26 percent and the national rate of 33 percent.    The local fatherhood initiative began Jan. 18 with an online training session for Ingraham and adult probation officer Dan Gross, who is spearheading the project. The pair learned what the state has to offer in support of the initiative, and a month-to-month guideline to follow, Gross said.
Future training for community leaders will include webinars, workshops and technical assistance.
The training is paid by the state, and counties that complete the training within the first six months will receive a one-time, $10,000 seed grant to begin fatherhood programs. The next step is the summit May 10 for invited leaders, with the goal of raising awareness of fatherhood, motivating leaders to get involved and developing activities that can be included in the county's action plan to promote responsible fatherhood, Gross said.
Ingraham said they don't yet know what kind of programs will be created and no set plan is in place.
"That's what the summit is for," he said.
Celina City Schools Superintendent Matt Miller is one of the many community leaders who volunteered to join the initiative. He volunteered because of the impact fathers have on the lives of Celina students. There are many fathers deeply involved in their children's lives and schooling, but other fathers need help, he said.
"I think that more of our kids can be academically, emotionally and socially better by having that key positive role model in their life," he said.
It's not always an issue of an absent father; sometimes it's younger, first-time fathers who don't know how to engage their children, he said.
"This is a great opportunity for our community to focus on this need, help those fathers who want to be engaged with their children, and hopefully for many of us to become better fathers as well," Miller said.
Other community leaders involved in the initiative include: Carol Schroyer and Kabeth Jarvis of Mercer County Head Start; Kenneth Rosengarten, professor of education at Wright State University-Lake Campus; Kathy Snider, director of Mercer County Child Support; Jason Cupp, director of Mercer County Job and family Services; Rev. Doug Meyer, St. Paul's United Church of Christ, Rockford; Sandy Dieringer, counselor, Foundations Behavioral Health Services; Bill Montgomery and Vince France of Celina Insurance Group; Matt Gilmore, attorney and Celina school board member; and Ted Goodwin, manager of Kozy Marina.

Dad's influence:
Children with involved fathers:
• Display higher grades, test scores and overall academic achievement.
• Participate in extracurricular activities.
• Have fewer behavioral problems and are happier and more confident.
• Have lower levels of delinquency.
Children with absent fathers are:
• Five times more likely to live in poverty.
• Three times more likely to fail in school.
• Two times more likely to be abused or neglected.
• Four times more likely to commit suicide.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families
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