Fathers for the Future (FFTF) was founded in 2005. Its mission is to support low to middle income working fathers of every race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation between the ages of 18 to 40 in building financial capacity and holistic stability as men, fathers and husbands.
J. Michael Carr, executive director and founder, is the brainchild behind the organization. He got the inspiration for it soon after overcoming stage II testicular cancer. FFTF was originally founded to provide parenting skills and to offer entrepreneurship training to fathers. In 2008, J. Michael and FFTF experienced a major setback and programming was ceased. J. Michael contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a debilitating flesh eating bacterial disease, leaving this husband and father of three in a coma for nine days. He was hospitalized for nearly three months and unable to walk and eat on his own for nearly 18 months.
During this time, J. Michael lost his job and health insurance. With his savings completely wiped out, J. Michael was “less than a paycheck away from poverty”. His family frequented food banks for meals and they were almost evicted. Once he was healthy enough to work again, J. Michael found employment, but his income was not nearly at the scale of his pre-illness salary. It didn’t help that his illness coincided with the Great Recession of 2008.
In the five-year period between 2008 and 2013, J. Michael gained insight from his own experience to revamp FFTF with a new mission, focus and vigor. FFTF now focuses on helping fathers understand money. No longer does it offer parenting or relationship classes. No longer does it help fathers find jobs or train them for jobs. In 2013 when programming started again, FFTF’s singular purpose is to help dads understand money so they can provide for their families. “To me that is the root of being a good father”, says J. Michael Carr.
J. Michael recently sat down with me to share some insight into Fathers for the Future and his life.
BV: It’s been a long road for you J. Michael. How are you?
JMC: Finally I am on the other side after my bout with flesh eating bacteria 2008. I was taken out of the job market for what seemed like an eternity.
BV: And during the Great Recession!
JMC: So I found myself really struggling. Our family was really in dire straits. My wife, Kyra, was unable to make enough money to maintain our quality of living for the period of time that I was unemployed. I had come from a nice job, with a high paying salary as a controller. I was not able to work because I was going through rehabilitation. All the money we had was spent to maintain my health when I lost my health insurance. The hospital bills wiped out our entire savings. Completely! We were actually flat broke. People always talk about being a paycheck away from poverty, we were, I would say, not even being a paycheck away from poverty. There was a time when Kyra would not have enough food in the house, so she would go to our church’s food bank to be able to feed us. We were almost evicted. We had to move in the 23rd hour. By this time I was working and was able to get some money and we were able to move. In the last few years, we started living below our means to rebuild our savings. We have an emergency nest egg and have been able to catch up and get back to where we were prior to 2008.
BV: Tell me about the revamped Fathers for the Future. Tell me more about your clients, your programming and how you see FFTF expanding.
JMC: Last year, 2013, we began programming again. We started in 3 phases – workshops, roundtable discussions and the Workingman’s Journey.
The Money Management for Power is a four-hour workshop where fathers learn household budgeting and the pitfalls and the scams associated with pay day loans, auto loans and currency exchanges. This is really a real world look at some of the problems a lot of the young men, and especially young men experiencing economic difficulty turn to when they have no other way to manage their money and pay their bills. They will also learn about banking needs, understanding the difference between a debit and credit card, understanding investments like stocks and bonds and understanding the difference between the two. We also discuss planning for retirement and how to pay for their children’s education, from day care to college.
The Workingman’s Journey is a mentor program. Every father is assigned a mentor who will help his mentee with money management matters, similar to a business coaching relationship. All mentors are involved in some area of the financial sector – bankers, stockbrokers and insurance agents. Some of the mentors are also certified financial planners.
We have partnerships with other non-profit organizations and government agencies so if our fathers need or are looking for a job, they can be connected. If they are looking for some type of banking services, we have relationships with several financial institutions. One of our financial partners offers 2ndchance bank accounts to our fathers. The 2nd chance bank account is for fathers having problems paying their bills or their credit cards or their mortgages. These are problems all families experience, no matter if they live in rural, urban or suburban areas, especially those who are functioning below the poverty line right now.
BV: Who are your fathers in Fathers for the Future? Where are they from? Speak about your demographic.
JMC: Demographically, we focus on fathers. We are not biased towards any race. There is no gender-bias, because there are plenty of fathers who do not have the traditional, male-female relationship. No ethnic bias. We are really focused on working fathers.
If you don’t have a job, you have no money to manage. So you need to take the first step which is finding gainful employment to be able to manage the money/income. Non-working fathers can be referred to other organizations for assistance.
Currently we are working in Chicago in two communities – South Shore and North Lawndale. We will begin programming in the Uptown neighborhood by year-end. From there, we want to build a base outside of Chicago that speaks to fathers in rural and suburban areas because they are struggling too.
BV: How are you funded? What are your funding needs?
JMC: We currently receive funding from financial institutions – banks, insurance companies and brokerage firms. Our revenue mix does not rely heavily on government agencies. We purposely decided to work with the corporate arena more because we want the support from the different financial institutions. Banks receive Community Reinvestment Act credit for organizations like FFTF.
COUNTRY Financial is our flagship sponsor. They recognize the uniqueness of our program and its impact on the lives of fathers and their families. As a father, I can look back and say when my kids we little I was not thinking about what my pension looked like. I wasn’t thinking about what their college savings should look like. So the Workingman’s Journey Mentor Program will be addressing these issues and more.
BV: And do you see the need for your services to be focused on a specific income level?
JMC: Yes I do. It ties to an article I was reading about Warren Buffet. It was the Secret Millionaire’s Club. It talks about the knowledge of investing that parents pass down to their children. I would say that in the African-American and Hispanic communities, that type of knowledge, not only is it not passed down, the reason it is not passed down is because it is not there.
People are really starting to see value in our programming. The fact that we are not scattered and we do not provide programming that is really not related to financial understanding and financial education and financial empowerment, a lot of funders appreciate that. That it’s not scattered. We are not providing parenting classes. There are already organizations that provide parenting classes and they do it very well. So why should we do that? Our goal, Fathers for the Future’s goal, is to help fathers manage their money and to become an expert at that.
BV: To be able to pass it down to their generations?
JMC: Yes. To their generations.
BV: Give me a success story.
JMC: I have two success stories. One success story is about a father who was in one of our first classes last summer and we were going through household budgeting. He was learning how to track his household expenses. Every week he was always coming up short. Like $200 short. We sat down and went over his spending habits. We were baffled because on paper he should have been able to clear enough money to meet his expenses, but he wasn’t. He finally said okay let’s come back to this, I need to go outside and smoke a cigarette. So I went outside with him and I started thinking, how often is he smoking cigarettes? So I realized he needed to track his cigarette spending. It turned out he was spending somewhere between $200 and $250 just on cigarettes and alcohol a week!
JMC: Yeah, a week.
BV: No way!
JMC: So no wonder at the end of 4 weeks he was like $800 short. So it was that aha moment where you really get to see someone understand exactly the value of learning their own finances. And that’s what is invaluable.
The second success story is about one of the fathers I saw at the grocery store. I asked how he was doing. We do follow-up with all of the program participants. He said he and his family were doing great. Then he said, “You know what Mr. Carr I want to tell you that my paycheck came on Friday and for the first time in my life, I still had some money.” And that made it all worthwhile. That right there made it all worthwhile.
BV: If a person, corporation or foundation wants to support your efforts, what are your top three priorities?
JMC: Okay. Currently we are working on a curriculum book. It will not be the typical financial education/financial literacy book. There are so many out there. I’ve seen them. I looked at them and many use a lot of jargon. So what we are doing is we are developing a book that can be used by other agencies to teach financial literacy. But it is going to focus on outcomes. What we have experienced by working with other partners that do financial literacy also is that tracking success is the most difficult part. So we are developing a model that tracks success over a two to three-year period after the fathers have gone through the program. Our measurements will include successful completion of financial counseling, the number of bank accounts opened, the rate of accounts closed, the number of overdrafts, applications for mortgages and tracking credit ratings. So it takes into consideration 3 years after they receive the FFTF training to see if it is really working and making an impact on their family’s lives.
BV: Do you charge?
JMC: The entire program is free. Our programs are underwritten.
BV: Is there anything else you want to share with potential donors?
JMC: We are looking – which is also the most difficult for any non-profit to attract – for general operating support. Money that is unrestricted that can be used to acquire more instructors for example. We use contract workers. Ninety-five percent of all funds received go to programming and five percent goes to administration. But the administrative expenses are what we need to actually run the organization, build capacity and hire more contract employees – people who are certified financial planners. We really have a cream of the crop mentality. We don’t want people off the street trying to teach financial literacy, so we have to be able to pay those people that can teach for FFTF. We’ve developed a curriculum that is really targeted to 18-40 years olds that are working fathers.
BV: Unrestricted funds and funds for the curriculum… One more priority.
JMC: Those are my 2 top priorities. I do not like to get too scattered.
BV: So how many fathers have you served since 2013?
JMC: From July 2013 through June 2014 we have worked with 48 fathers, 57% of them are single dads.
BV: What are your goals for the remainder 2014?
JMC: Through different grants and donations, we have to serve a minimum of 400 fathers.
BV: Anything else? Any parting words?
JMC: I think that my renewal of faith after my near death experience changed the direction of Fathers for the Future. We are not a faith based organization, but as the leader, it has taken on more of the social justice based on Catholic teachings approach. We have a strong base of support through our board and through our funders of trying to help people help themselves out of poverty.
I recently received the ComEd Power of One Neighborhood Hero Award. And I want to say that I was reluctant to actually accept the award because I felt there were so many other people in Chicago who deserved it more. I was thankful and I accepted because I thought it would bring the organization positive publicity.
J. Michael Carr and his wife Kyra have been married for 18 years. They have 3 children, ages 17, 16 and 15. On May 3rd, Mr. Carr received the Daughters of Divine Love Community Activist Award by the Catholic Church because of the work FFTF is doing to eradicate poverty.
You can learn more about Fathers for the Future by going to the website www.fathersforthefuture.org. Feel free to LIKE the Fathers for the Future page on Facebook and follow on Twitter.
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