Closing their ranks for kids


Pictured (from the left): Owen Smith, Ron Wilkins,
Anita Brentley, Marcus Murray and Lafawnda Sanderson.


Owen Smith knows what it’s like to grow up without a father.

“I think there is a lot of stuff that could have been different if I had a male role model,” he said. “I don’t want my kids to be in the same situation.”

Owen is more than an active father; he’s a participant and volunteer with the Avondale/Every Child Succeeds (AVECS) father’s program, A Soldier (Avondale’s Strong Organized Leaders Delivering in Every Responsibility). The support group covers everything from taking care of babies, to finding employment, pursuing education, to just talking about what it’s like to be a dad.

One of the situations that Owen wishes he had avoided was going to the penitentiary for two years. At 31, he’s one of the older members of A Soldier and he often shares his story with younger dads.

“After that experience, I was like, ‘what am I doing?’” he said. “I tell that to everybody: go to school, get your education, go to college, do something positive with yourself because there isn’t anything out on the streets. I had to make a change within myself before I was even ready to have kids.”

A Soldier grew out of AVECS mom’s group, Moms on a Mission. Since 2006, AVECS has been providing services for first-time, at-risk moms. Participating mothers requested that the fathers have a similar program.

“It takes a village to raise a child” rings true in Avondale. Residents, churches, and businesses are all involved in AVECS programming. “We have taxi drivers; we have apartment managers who help with the referral process,” said Anita Brentley of Every Child Succeeds. A community liaison, Lafawnda Sanderson, refers moms.

“She lives in the community, rides the same bus, goes to the same grocery store, the same fashion store and they connect in that way.” You can see it in action on Wednesday mornings in the Carmel Presbyterian Church basement, where there is an atmosphere of productive chaos. Volunteers sort clothing donations; others prepare food for the evening meeting. Fathers, including Owen, paint bookshelves for AVECS children.

Marcus Murray is one of these fathers.

“I think the program is special because there aren’t too many that help fathers,” he said. “Nowadays, it’s rare that the father is in the house as much as the mother is, so this piece was important to help soon-to-be fathers and men that are already fathers to learn how to accept responsibility for their kids and be happy and teach them how to engage with kids in a loving, caring, cultivating way.”

“A lot of times, especially in the black community, young men don’t know how to articulate feelings and emotions and this teaches them how,” he added. “This also teaches us how to support one another as men in this community. I’m glad I’m part of it, I see participation increasing and I’m glad to be a part of everything it has to offer.”

Sounds like Marcus is a true soldier. And that’s something worth rounding up the troops for.

About Every Child Succeeds
Every Child Succeeds (ECS) was founded by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical CenterCincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency and United Way of Greater Cincinnati. GCF is a long-time supporter of ECS. It received a Weathering the Economic Storm grant of $30,000 in 2010.

About place matters
place matters is a funders collaborative investing in comprehensive community development initiatives in Avondale, Covington and Price Hill. The Avondale ECS program received funding from place matters for community liaisons for the parents’ groups. GCF is a place matters funding partner.

      Other features from the 2010 Annual Report