Fathers’ Support Center comes full circle with added Mothers’ Project

Sid Hastings
Sr. Schumer
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At the start of class, Thomascina (Ann) Stringfellow handed out bundles of cash to her students. Three hundred dollars each, to be exact. Not the real stuff, of course, just play money.

Stringfellow wasn't auctioning cars or household items, though. The women in class at the Fathers' Support Center were bidding on values. As in, the things important to them and what they're instilling in their children's lives.

One by one, the students went around the room and shared what they value most: honesty, respect, loyalty, accountability. Then they had one minute to bid on each value Stringfellow presented to them.

"How about a child who is a leader and not a follower?" she asked.

A bidding war ensued. "Sold, for $175 to the lady in brown!" Stringfellow shouted out when their minute was up.

"They're going to get into things, but I don't want them to follow the wrong person, and continuously do the wrong thing," Miriam Brown, the winning bidder, explained.

"If it's important to you, it will guide your behavior," Stringfellow said. "You have to value it in order for your child to value it, too."

Last month, the Fathers' Support Center in north St. Louis received a three-year, $319,000 grant for the organization's Parenting in Partnership (aka Mothers' Project) program to help mothers to work with the fathers of their children and achieve positive results. Students learn communication and relationship skills, health and nutrition, financial literacy and parenting approaches.

The grant was awarded by Mission and Ministry Inc., the granting entity of the Daughters of Charity's Province of St. Louise. Sister Carol Schumer, a Daughter of Charity and facilitator at Fathers' Support Center for 18 years, was a supporter of the grant proposal.

The program started in 2015 as a pilot, expanding on a similar effort offered for fathers. Since its founding in 1998, the agency has reached more than 13,000 fathers, fostering healthy relationships and strengthening families and communities.

The Mothers' Project takes place over the course of a year, starting with six weeks of classes. Upon graduation, the women receive access to follow-up services, including mentoring, legal services and assistance with job placement.

It brings the center's mission full circle, providing systemic changes within families, and with a hand up, not a hand out, said Sister Carol, who this year celebrated her 50th anniversary as a Daughter of Charity.

"We realize that mothers and fathers are pivotal — children need both parents," Sister Carol said. "Both parents need to know what's healthy in raising children. It's pivotal if the mother and father can get along — because if they can get along then the children are learning how to get along with other people, and how a man relates to a woman and how a woman relates to a man — they're lifelong lessons."

Through the mothers' participation, another underlying goal is to encourage the fathers of their children to enter into the men's program. One success story includes a Mothers' Project graduate whose boyfriend proposed to her at graduation.

Shallon Weekly, another graduate, said she's learned the value of communication. "When I got here, I was pretty much to myself," said the member of St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church. She described the relationship with the father of her three teenage daughters as "respectful." Her daughters are in turn are taught to be respectful of others.

"They give a lot of advice here, and make you feel comfortable and loved," Weekly said. 

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