As Father’s Day approaches, there are Mercer County fathers who through a variety of circumstance are unable to have the full experience of being a dad but are determined to find a way to interact with and be a part of their children’s life.
UIH Family Partners in Trenton is a program that gives them that hope.
Established in 1859 as an orphanage, the Trenton-based Union Industrial Home for Children — now known as UIH Family Partners — is the oldest nonprofit in New Jersey to address the needs of children and families.
With a mission to help men become involved fathers, the organization served more than 1,200 men in 2018 with programs and services focusing on four areas: prevention, workforce development, job readiness, and fatherhood.
Open to men from all walks of life, the majority of those involved are unemployed, non-custodial fathers. And because of community need, the organization added a satellite location in Burlington County to address the growing call for the services it provides.
Stephen Fitzpatrick, whose own father died when he was very young, knows from experience the difficulties of growing up in a household with the absence of a father.
When Fitzpatrick was preparing to retire from his consulting work as founder and president of Princeton Strategy Consultants, he began to look around at area non-profits to get involved with. VolunteerConnect, an organization that matches professionals looking for pro bono opportunities to nonprofit organizations, introduced Fitzpatrick to UIH Family Partners, where he now serves on the board of directors.
“We talk a lot about rebuilding and helping establish relationships with fathers and their children,” says Fitzpatrick. “These men come in from referrals on the street, from a pastor, from other nonprofits, such as HomeFront and Isles, or from the court system. Ultimately these are men with an inclination, a drive, to be better fathers and a wish to have a relationship with their children.”
Studies have shown that an involved father is critical to the health and overall well-being of a child. Children who have a relationship with their father are also less likely to get in trouble with the law, tend to do better in school, and are more likely to succeed in life.
UIH goes beyond studies and uses fathers’ personal testimonies. “Everything about being a father is seeing (the child) every day,” says one. Another gets right to the issue: “If I had a positive role model in my life, things would have turned out way different.”
To mark its 160th anniversary UIH Family Partners will be presenting a special edition of its signature event, Platinum Dads, on Friday, June 14, at the Bradford Estate in Hainesport, New Jersey.
The annual event recognizes 10 fathers or father figures who have been positive and consistent forces in the lives of children.
This year’s honorees include 1911 Smokehouse chef Reggie Hallett, African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey president John Harmon, Isles founder and president Marty Johnson, and others.
Stacy Heading, founder of the Trenton-based volunteer group Heal the City, will receive the Legacy of Fatherhood Award — UIH’s highest award — given to a father for his lasting impact on his community.
The organization and event are guided by UIH director Karen Andrade-Mims.
Originally from Yeadon, Pennsylvania, Andrade-Mims graduated with a degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975. She came to Princeton with her husband in 1987 to assist an ill family member and remained.
Since then she has served on the boards of several nonprofit social organizations, received a master’s degree in public administration from Rutgers-Newark in 2005, and is the former deputy director of program for Prevent Child Abuse NJ.
Andrade-Mims, who after a divorce found herself a single mother experiencing child raising from a perspective different from the focus at UIH, said in a printed interview that her involvement with UIH “began as a board member, and when the executive director left in 2008, I was asked to take over as an interim. I’m still here.”
In addition to the Platinum Dads semi-formal, UIH Family Partners has embarked on a year-long fundraising campaign, “Fatherhood: Building a Foundation of Hope for the Future,” to enable UIH Family Partners to continue to offer free programs including job readiness, Dress2Impress workplace clothing, computer literacy training, parenting education, anger management, stress and time management, Daddy & Me Literacy, Community of Health for Men, and more.
As a former management consultant, Fitzpatrick is fascinated by the transformation of this organization with its long history and enduring dedication and determination to better the lives of children. From an orphanage, to a home for teen mothers, to today’s focus on fathers and fatherhood, its commitment to serve Mercer County’s neediest and most vulnerable residents remains unwavering.
As noted earlier, his interest was shaped by his own life.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, an industrial city that fell on hard times, like Trenton, Fitzgerald describes his early life by saying “my mother was widowed young, with three pre-teenage children. After my father’s death (he was a clerk with British Railways), we were supported mostly by government social programs. I almost always had some part-time job at school and college, including working at a greyhound race track and as a machine operator in a structural steel works.”
Although he says he “was not really very academically motivated,” academics were in his future. “My parents had both had to leave school at age 14, owing to their family circumstances, but they were very committed to education, not in a pushy way, but just quietly and steadily. I would happily play soccer in the street for as late as possible in the evening, but my mother would call from the window ‘homework!’”
Consequentially he and his siblings were the first generation to attend college, and he graduated from the University of Glasgow with honors.
Fitzpatrick says he began his career with the Ford Motor Company, first in product development and then became an engineering manager in their large factory near London. “After a couple of years, I decided that engineering really was not a career for me, so I took a business degree at Imperial College in London and joined the PA Consulting Group, at the time the largest business consulting firm outside the U.S. I worked on different projects across Europe for six or seven years, then came to the U.S. to help grow their business here.
“I came to Princeton from Washington, D.C., when the company decided to consolidate a number of smaller offices around the country into a larger headquarters, and Princeton was the chosen location. By the late 1980s I was a senior executive running a division of the PA Consulting Group in Princeton.”
He says that he was spending “a lot of time on new business development and selling new projects and recruiting new staff and not spending much time on actual consulting face-to-face with clients, which is what I had always enjoyed.”
As computer technology and online databases became more common, he saw an opportunity to create a consulting company that “focused on a specific industry, with selected services, and very efficient in terms of staffing and delivery, and that led me to form Princeton Strategy Consultants Inc. in 1988 and which I headed for 25 years. Fortunately, it was successful pretty much from the start.”
He then began his involvement with nonprofits, serving on the boards of Your ReSource in Ewing and Goodwill and then UIH.
“Based on my own background, I’m particularly interested in UIH services in providing relevant training, education, and job placement with targeted local growth industries. But what stands out most for me at UIH is the experience, dedication, and relentless commitment that the UIH staff in Trenton and Burlington bring every day to their work on some of the most challenging issues in our community.”
Overall, he says, “We’ve got a great story here, and to me, that’s worth sharing.”
160th Anniversary/2019 Platinum Dads Event, UIH Family Partners, The Bradford Estate, 1910 Marne Highway, Hainesport. Friday June 14, 6 to 10 p.m. $125 to $150. www.uihfamilypartners.org or 609-695-3663.
UIH Family Partners, 4 North Broad Street, Suite 2R, Trenton. Karen Andrade-Mims, director.