By RICK WATSON
Ward Williams knows what it means to have an absent father.
His own dad walked out on him and his four siblings when he was young.
“My mother struggled to make ends meet without any support, financial or otherwise, from my father,” he said.
Luckily for Williams, his coaches, teachers and pastors stepped in and helped him through those difficult times.
He realized early on that he would not make the same mistakes his father made and has committed his adult life to equipping men to be fathers nationwide and especially in Shelby County.
Williams knows children in homes with absent fathers are more likely to live in poverty, become involved in drugs, commit crimes and become pregnant. As a remedy, he is reaching out to the community to help men become involved, committed and responsible dads in his role as Executive Director of Vineyard Family Services (VFS), based out of Inverness Vineyard Church.
Thanks to Williams’ implementation, the first “alternative sentencing program” in Shelby County Family Court services non-custodial fathers who are in trouble with the law because they aren’t paying child support.
“Most men don’t want to go to parenting classes, but being ordered to go by the courts is a high motivator,” said Williams.
The first few weeks of the program are the most difficult for men, but around midway, most begin to “get it,” said Williams.
“VFS has filled a need in relation to fathers’ views toward their families and responsibilities to support their children financially, emotionally and physically,” said James R. Kramer, District/Juvenile Judge for Shelby County. “They have assisted these fathers to obtain employment, further their education and accept their legal responsibilities as parents.”
The program has helped young mothers across Shelby County to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in child support. Some men sell their motorcycles and other property to settle what they owe.
At the end of the program, men begin calling their children, showing up at sporting events, and becoming involved in the lives of their children.
“It makes a huge difference with the child,” Williams said.
Williams’ work received national attention when he shared the stage with President Obama during the White House Conference on Responsible Fatherhood.
VFS’s 13-week Fatherhood Initiative Training (F.I.T.) also helps men to accept responsibility and learn to do the right things.
Williams’ work with VSF is grounded in his own family. Williams has been married to his wife, Suzanne, for almost twelve years. His involvement with his three children, Tate, Carson and Sarah Paige, has brought a great deal of healing to the wounds of his childhood.
“I have discovered the joy of being a part of a family!” he said.
Williams’ love for his family and his passion to help families led him to start a program in 2008 that sends nutritious food home with children who don’t get enough to eat over the weekend. Backpack Buddies serves the 8,000 students in Shelby County who receive free school lunches. School counselors identify children who don’t get enough to eat over the weekend and work with Backpack Buddies to address that issue.
What’s next for VFS? Williams said that in the future he will work as a divorce and family mediator.
“With the back log in the court system, a contested divorce could take years. My work as a mediator will help families work out the details that are best for the family without litigation.”
Williams speaks at clubs, church and civic organizations on behalf of Vineyard Family Services. To learn more, visit www.vfsdads.com.