The Illinois Fatherhood Initiative (IFI) is the country’s first statewide non-profit organization dedicated to connecting children and fathers by promoting responsible fathering and helping equip men to become better fathers and father figures. This group has worked tirelessly to raise the issue of the critical importance of fatherhood, the role of fathers and father figures in children’s lives, and to give men the tools they need to fill that responsibility. The organization is based on the philosophy that children and society are both better served when men meet and fulfill their roles in children’s lives.
Started in 1997 by David Hirsch, a private citizen and father of five children, the initiative is funded largely by Mr. Hirsch himself along with in-kind contributions and private donations. Another major funding source is the sale of an award-winning calendar created solely by IFI’s dedicated volunteers. The 12-month calendar includes resources for fathers, colorful and vibrant photographs of fathers with their children, reprints of winning “Father of the Year” essays, and inspirational and motivational quotes for fathers. The award-winning calendar features in its center several pages of coupons for food, products, and services provided by family-oriented vendors, restaurants, and amusement parks. As well, the IFI distributes a Fathering Resource Guide, full of family activities, resources, inspirational messages and information to help men be the fathers that children need.
The IFI also sponsors an annual statewide essay contest for school-aged children to reflect and write about their relationships with their fathers, father figures, grandfathers and stepfathers. Nearly 140,000 essays on the topic “What My Father Means To Me” have been submitted in the three years of the contest. Each year, more than 1,000 volunteers have read each essay and helped to eventually choose and publicly honor Father of the Year in each of the four categories. These volunteers are not paid for their time or services, but commit to help each year because of their belief in the goals of the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative.
In 1999, the IFI sponsored its first Fatherhood Conference, held in Chicago, at which both family practitioners and regular families shared ideas and enjoyed activities with family. On the first day of the conference, doctors, social workers, school counselors and other practitioners in the field of family services, participated in informative discussions with speakers from the family industry and authors of books on family topics. The second day included dads from throughout the state of Illinois and their families enjoying a luncheon and fun, educational sessions on various aspects of fatherhood. IFI plans to continue the conferences on a yearly basis.
The IFI has also conducted several training programs to help men from all walks of life, including incarcerated men, gain the knowledge and skills to be good role models for children. A new endeavor for IFI is the Boot Camp for New Dads, which is a national hospital-based program that supplies information to expectant and new dads to help them prepare for parenting. The program already exists in eight Illinois locations, 5 of which are in Chicago. IFI has a future goal of offering this program in every hospital in the state of Illinois. In addition, the organization is focusing on raising its profile with corporate sponsors. A recent corporate donation from the Chicago White Sox, a major sports franchise, of $1 million in free home game tickets is a result of the group’s fundraising efforts.