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Local nonprofit Families Matter is set to receive a $25M grant from the State of Tennessee to launch

By John Klyce – Reporter, Memphis Business Journal

Jul 7, 2022 Updated Jul 7, 2022, 3:05pm CDT

Carol Jackson is executive director of Families Matter. MARC BUFORD | CHRIST COMMUNITY HEALTH SERVICES

In April, Carol Jackson received an email that caused her to scream so loudly her husband rushed in. But this wasn’t a cry of terror, it was one of joy.


Because Jackson is the executive director of local, faith-based nonprofit Families Matter — and she had just been notified that the organization would receive a $25 million grant from the State of Tennessee, easily the largest it’s ever received.


“This is prayers realized, and faith materialized,” Jackson said. “It gives us the ability to dream, and to dream big, for Memphis and Shelby County.”


Families Matters is one of seven groups in the state that was selected to receive $25 million from the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) Families First Community Advisory Board, as part of the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative. The organizations were chosen from a pool of over 80 applicants, and the recipients are expected to enact programs that help families with economic, social, and developmental vulnerabilities improve their circumstances and achieve self-sufficiency.


Families Matter is one of two Memphis-based organizations to receive the grant. The other is the University of Memphis, which received it for its project, “Growing Relational and Generational Wealth for West Tennessee Households (GROWWTH).”


AFIRM

Founded in 2004, Families Matter initially began with a marriage strengthening program, but later expanded its focus to include a wider array of offerings that mentor and help low-income families. After joining the organization in 2009, Jackson realized it needed to provide wider, more in-depth programming for low-income fathers — which she didn’t see much of in the community.


“In so many cases there are no safety nets for fathers,” she said. “At the end of the day, those children go home, and allow in their lives, men that have not been trained [to care for them].” So, Families Matter bolstered its programming for young dads. And now, its work with them is poised to be drastically expanded and enhanced with the $25 million grant.

In partnership with Maximus, the global government services company, Families Matter is set to use the funds to launch the AFIRM (A Father’s Involvement Really Matters) program, which will look to increase the ability of low-income, Memphis-area fathers to provide both financial and emotional support for their children. The program’s efforts are expected to be centered around three core pillars: Upward economic mobility of low-income fathers, so they can support themselves and their families; improved support for them, so they can consistently make child support payments; and increased capacity for healthy parenting, so they can better connect with their children.

'Their best selves' Much of the economic mobility element of the program will be focused on employment, with Maximus set to help place fathers in promising positions that they can succeed in. The firm has identified multiple Memphis-specific sectors — including transportation and construction — that are bustling, and could come with good wages and benefits.

“We design our programs to make sure we’re working with the fathers, guiding them through the process; and we have developed a staffing plan, that’s tailored to help them through that,” said Meshia Henderson, VP of workforce services with Maximus. “[We’re looking] to get dads jobs in the fields where they can earn enough to help them support their family, and have the benefits to go along with that.”

They’ll also look to ensure fathers are placed in positions that are a natural fit for them; they don’t want to force anything. And the program will look to remove barriers to educational opportunities, for fathers that want them. For example, Families Matter has a partnership with local nonprofit CodeCrew — along with a variety of other organizations and churches — and for fathers who are interested in gaining IT and coding skills, working with it is a possibility.

Many of the other components of the program will focus on child support and parenting. There will also be offerings centered around co-parenting, for moms who choose to participate in them.

The goal, Jackson said, is “to restore the dad to the family,” and ensure that child support is not a barrier to having a relationship as a father.

“It is about creating those relationships between fathers and children, that help children become their best selves, and the men become their best selves,” Jackson said. “We don’t want surface things; we want them to really help them understand their positive roles within their children’s lives.”

According to both Jackson and Henderson, the partnership between the two is expected to be seamless, with the groups expected to be “attached at the hip” with many elements of AFIRM.

Combined, the organizations are expected to use the grant to hire over 30 new employees to support the program. And though things are still being planned out — the program isn’t expected to launch until February 2023 — Jackson and Henderson are confident it could make a big impact on the Bluff City.

“This is not about Families Matter,” Jackson said. “This is about Memphis and Shelby County.”


Check out the Memphis Business Journal article here

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