Stepping up to shape young men for a better tomorrow
By Edna Ruiz
Photography by Dsto Moore
Juri Mintz, a Macon mother of eight, needed to find a program to keep her children busy during the summer. She wanted to keep them away from the TV, social media and trouble. She wanted something that would help them prepare for the next school year, not just academically, but with everyday decisions.
The only problem was that all the organizations she reached out to had waitlists.
“There were dozens of kids already on the waitlist,” Mintz said. “But then one day I read about Fathers Among Men on Facebook. I signed them up, and I fell in love with it.”
The nonprofit organization was still in its beginning stages when Mintz’s four boys joined. Co-founder of Fathers Among Men, Inc. (FAM), Fred Sterdivant started the organization with the intention of empowering fathers, soon-to-be fathers and father figures through mentorship, education and examples from outstanding fathers. The organization continues to represent that initial goal, but it has also become more of a mentor-based organization for youth in our community.
“When you start talking about impacting the community, working with the youth is always part of the long-term solution,” Sterdivant said.
Sterdivant, a graduate of Fort Valley State University and a father of one daughter, said he founded the organization after noticing there was not much support for young fathers and their children. After he decided to take that on, he saw a need for young men wanting mentors to help with handling life. For about two years, the program has benefitted about 100 kids, including Mintz’s four boys aged 14, 13 and nine.
“Since joining Fathers Among Men, I’ve just noticed a big difference in their behavior, especially with my oldest,” Mintz said. “Mr. Fred has a been a huge blessing for my boys. He really cares.”
The boys have been a part of the FAM camps for two summers and have visited college campuses and the District Attorney’s Office, as well as attended baseball and soccer games. While they participate in fun activities, Sterdivant said they incorporate lessons, whether it be reading poems and literature, becoming financially literate, learning about the environment (and how to keep it clean) and giving back to the community. FAM also hosts food drives and cleanups. Recently, they cleaned up an empty lot on Roy Street that they intend to make into a community garden. Sterdivant said the boys were paid for their work. “We like to give them opportunities to work for their money. We also want to show them life is work, but it’s worth it.”
Among all these lessons, one of the most important ones FAM strives to instill is the importance of relying on each other.
“We’ve really learned how to be a team,” said Mintz’s oldest son, Jayden Owens. “It’s fun, and I get to experience things I haven’t before.”
“A mentor is good, teachers are good, but ultimately youth have to have a network where they can hold each other accountable, because when it’s time to make that hard decision, Momma’s not going to be there, the mentor’s not going to be there or the coach is not going to be there,” Sterdivant said. “But most of the time, their friends, siblings or cousins will be there.”
Sterdivant said he hopes they use better judgement in making decisions through the support of their peers. FAM’s long-term goal is to create a cohort mentoring program with a 10 to one structure. This aspiration falls in line with Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller’s Macon Violence Prevention (MVP) initiative, which he announced last summer. MVP is a multi-layered plan to combat violent crime in our community.
“There is no single approach to stopping violence in our community,” Mayor Miller said. “If we can have organizations like Fathers Among Men taking the initiative to mentor our youth at a young age and steer them in the right direction, we may start to see a big difference.”
Mayor Miller and the Commission allocated $800,000 towards organizations in our community who are aiming to prevent violence. Twenty-five nonprofit and faith-based organizations were chosen after applying for the grants through the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. FAM, in partnership with Heart of Georgia Advisory Council, was chosen to receive $16,000.
Heart of Georgia Advisory Council was created in September 2021 as an effort to bring several different nonprofit organizations together to work together for the same cause – improving Macon’s community. The council is composed of eight people from different groups.
“We’re not trying to go at it alone,” Sterdivant said. “We may have created our organizations separately, may do some events or activities separately, but we see the need and the desire to work as a group. We want to be able to show people in our community that, hey, we have similar goals and similar ideas and work together.”
With the grant funding, FAM and the Advisory Council’s goal is to create something called “Activate Saturdays,” hosting events and activities for youth every first and third Saturday of the month. It’s centered around young men because much of the violence that occurs in the community is male-centered, but they leave it open to young ladies to participate as well.
The organization has already hosted some events for kids, such as a spring break camp and taking kids to different parks. They try to make these activities free for everyone, so having this grant money will allow them to hold accessible events more frequently.
These kinds of activities are what keep Mintz’s boys looking forward to the next summer camp and wanting to learn more about their community.
“My son stayed in trouble, but since he started attending Fathers Among Men, he calmed down tremendously,” Mintz said. “Mr. Fred and Fathers Among Men helped me keep them out of trouble.”
“Mr. Fred is a role model for me,” Owens said. “He does stuff that I’ve never seen anybody do before, like cleaning his community. I really like when we cook and grill and give plates out to people. He cares about his community.”
Owens is looking forward to starting his first year at Southwest High School this upcoming school year. While high school can be intimidating, he said he’s not too worried since he knows he can always rely on his team within Fathers Among Men.
If you would like to learn more about FAM and how you can help, visit fathersamongmen.org.