Keeping Families Close
In April, the Fathers and Families Support Center (FFSC) unexpectedly lost its founder and CEO, Halbert Sullivan, leaving colleagues to mourn his passing and make plans to recognize his many contributions. Sullivan, who struggled with substance use and incarceration as a young man, launched the nonprofit in 1997 after realizing that many St. Louis parents needed help keeping their families together.
Today, Sullivan’s organization serves hundreds of men and women each year through parenting education, legal and community re-entry services, employment counseling, youth development and other critical programs. Now based in new downtown headquarters, the center originally served mostly fathers, but a recent name change reflects its evolving commitment to mothers and youth as well. FFSC’s mission is supported by research that shows children of involved parents are more likely to finish school and enjoy happy, productive lives.
Executive vice president and COO Cheri Tillis was named acting CEO to keep the organization’s programs on track, and she says there has been no interruption in services for families. “The sudden loss of Mr. Sullivan caught our staff off guard, but we have been supportive of each other and are committed to honoring his legacy,” Tillis says. Since its founding, the organization has provided services to 18,000 fathers and made a difference in the lives of more than 45,000 children.
Tillis says the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges over the past year, but the organization has weathered them effectively. “We already had the technology for people to participate in programs remotely, including monitors and cameras,” she explains. “We were able to continue all of our classes via Zoom, so we actually never had to shut down.”
She adds that the future holds exciting possibilities for the organization. “We are planning to increase outreach about our employment services,” she says. “We want people to know that we are here and can assist them in choosing a new career path through training and placement. This is especially important now, as many St. Louisans have suffered job losses due to the pandemic.”
Tillis says the center, which recently opened a second location in East St. Louis, is transitioning back to in-person programs based on current safety guidelines. She says staff members hope to increase the number of parents and families served in the coming months. “We are interested in attracting more people from areas like south St. Louis,” she says. “We also are adding more virtual offerings to suit young people and moms, many of whom are busy coordinating family needs from home.” In the meantime, fun programs like movie nights and virtual celebrations have offered a welcome respite for clients.
According to Tillis, positive feedback from families has provided important encouragement for FFSC staff, especially over the last year. “For dads, the greatest worry is usually that they won’t be able to provide for their families, and parents also feel stress over child visitation and custody proceedings,” she says. “They are grateful for all of the ways we can help them stay connected to their kids.”
A memorial celebration honoring Halbert Sullivan is Planned for June 16 in Forest Park, and FFSC’s annual fundraising gold tournament is Oct. 16. Visit fatherssupportcenter.org for more information.
Pictured at top: Late founder Halbert Sullivan (left) with a program graduate
Photos courtesy of FFSC