By Joel Hall
Laurence Nelson, social services administrator for the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services, was recently given the unique task of making $100 work toward the betterment of the entire community - and only 100 days to do it.
He plans to use the money to bring Clayton County foster children closer to their biological fathers.
Nelson is calling his idea "Everyday is Father's Day," and planning a festival around the theme on Oct. 25, featuring a full day of activities aimed at promoting male parental engagement.
Nelson said the event will include moonwalks, organized dodgeball and kickball games, popcorn, face painting, a talent show, and workshops to help foster children and their natural fathers develop a stronger bond.
But with only $100, Nelson said the department will be calling upon the entire community to make the idea a reality.
"It's a community effort that is needed to get fathers more involved" in the lives of their children, Nelson said. "It's not really about having enough money to do things. It's about everybody giving a little bit of what they have to make a change."
Nelson said his idea resulted from a gesture made by Mark Washington, the head of the Department of Family and Children Services for Georgia. On July 30, during the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Permanency Training Conference in Savannah - a statewide gathering of department officials - Washington took $400 of his own money and randomly gave $100 bills to four people as seed money for projects around the state.
Cathy Ratti, regional Department of Family and Children Services director for Clayton, Henry and Fayette counties, said the gesture has gotten department officials talking statewide about ways in which local agencies can make a difference in economically trying times.
"It's not a lot of money, but he [Washington] is counting on it being a much bigger return on that investment," Ratti said. "It has already sparked a lot of discussion and that is more valuable than the money. It is a good challenge because these are lean-budget times and it makes you think, 'What can I do that won't cost a lot of money, but will still have a positive impact on children, fathers, and families?'"
Ratti said traditionally, organizations such as the Department of Family and Children Services have not made a concerted effort to involve fathers in the lives of their children, or provided resources for them to do so. She said the idea behind Everyday is Father's Day is to give foster children a chance to know their real fathers - an opportunity, she said, that is rarely afforded to them.
"Typically, fathers have been ignored in this line of work," Ratti said. "As agencies, I don't believe we have always embraced fathers and given them that opportunity. We have to change that focus. Children have better outcomes when both parents are involved, even if they don't live together, and are not married."
In the coming weeks, Nelson said he will be calling on churches, schools, fraternity and sorority groups, businesses, and others, to donate money, time, and in-kind services to help make the idea a success.
Along with the activities, Nelson hopes to provide out-of-state fathers with free bus and plane tickets, and hotel vouchers, so they come and stay in Clayton County for the event. He also hopes to be able to arrange prison visits for case workers and foster children to visit fathers who are incarcerated.
"A lot of our children haven't even spent a day with their fathers at all," Nelson said. "We thought, what better way to use this money than to do an event where fathers could spend time with their children. I've never had time to plan something of this magnitude in this amount of time. I do think it's enough time if everybody comes to the table."
To learn how to participate in Everyday is Father's Day, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (770) 603-4679.