Photo of Fathers Group Member Lavelle Shaffer

Lavelle Shaffer

When Lavelle Shaffer’s first son was born in August 2015, the young West Chicago native was struggling. He became homeless earlier that year after a dispute with family and had only recently found an apartment to call home.

Those first few days, Lavelle stayed by his partner’s side night in and night out, the first display of the care and commitment he has made to his children ever since. “We were trying to figure our stuff out, but we were living on our own for the first time,” Lavelle said.

While he and his partner bonded over Noah’s birth, a caseworker visiting the new parents offered Lavelle, now 26, another bond in his life – a “brotherhood” of young fathers also seeking guidance on life and parenthood.

Since opening its doors in 2002, the Gerst Family Young Fathers Program hosted by Metropolitan Family Services, a United Way of Metro Chicago community partner, has helped men across Chicago become employed and financially independent and to raise healthy children. The long-term, comprehensive program offers an array of services and takes a holistic approach to address the fathers’ needs.

“A lot of people have the idea that these guys are deadbeats or don’t want to do for their children,” MFS case manager Nathan Wright said of the fathers, some of whom are ex-offenders. “One of the things we’re doing is getting these guys off the streets and giving them a chance to show their worth to their families, to the mother’s family and to their community. Now, they feel so good about themselves.”