FAIRVIEW— Every school day, a small cluster of men gathers outside Cornelsen Elementary School in Fairview well before the first student arrives. As each student is dropped off, these men form a greeting line more reminiscent of the home team entrance at a football game than the arrival for an average day at school. Fists are bumped, compliments paid, shoulders patted and more than a few hugs freely given.
These men are not teachers, staff or administrators. They are volunteers in a group formed last fall to provide positive male role models for local students: Fathers Are In The House (FAITH).
“Usually we schedule two or three guys to be out here, and this is what happens,” said FAITH organizer Gene Goodson, gesturing to a group of eight men waiting to greet students. “People just show up. It’s awesome.”
Goodson helped found FAITH last October after years of seeing kids in need through his work as an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper.
“Ever since I moved back here eight years ago, I started coming up to the school on days when I worked day shift,” Goodson said. “Through a lot of years of windshield time, and hearing stories of kids not having a full family at home, we decided we needed to do something.”
Goodson teamed up with Jason Ewing, Major County Undersheriff Darin Reames and Major County Associate District Judge Tim Haworth to form FAITH last fall. Since then the group has grown to include more than 20 fathers, grandfathers and interested community members.
“Our main purpose is to be positive role models, and to interact with the kids,” Goodson said.
‘Society still cares’
FAITH members come from a variety of fields and backgrounds and include a doctor, bankers, lawyers, law enforcement officers and business owners.
Goodson said all the members have two traits in common: good moral character and a desire to be a positive role model for kids. And, every member must pass a background check before participating in FAITH activities or interacting with students.
While several members have a law enforcement background, Goodson said security is not FAITH’s primary purpose.
“We do deter a lot of bullying,” he said, “but our main purpose is be positive role models and show the kids society still cares about them.”
Ewing joined the group in part because he has a child attending Cornelsen and two more at home who will attend the school. But, he also was drawn to the opportunity to help any child who needs extra positive reinforcement.
“I love working with and being around the kids,” Ewing said. “I just enjoy being up here. You can tell the kids who don’t have much, and how happy they are to see someone interested in them. It brightens their day a little bit.”
Don Klinger, another FAITH volunteer who joined after hearing about the group’s work, said it’s fun to see the kids’ positive reactions to being greeted at school.
“Day by day, watching them get out...they just cheer up when they get here,” he said. “The kids just show up ecstatic to see their friends. It’s a nice start to the day.”
Klinger said the group also helps provide support some kids lack at home. He’s seen the results of those deficiencies in his job as a physician and emergency room doctor at Fairview Regional Medical Center.
“Some of the kids just lacked good male role models,” he said.
‘Good side of it’
Haworth said FAITH is working to alleviate some of the long-term effects that come from children who don’t have positive male role models in their lives.
“In my job you see a lot of the bad side of things, so it’s nice to be a part of the good side of it,” Haworth said.
He pointed to academic research and government studies indicating children are far more likely to suffer bullying, drop out of school, engage in early sexual activity or drug and substance abuse and eventually end up in a courtroom like his if they don’t get the positive reinforcement they need.
Haworth hopes the efforts of FAITH will provide some of that positive influence for the kids who need it most.
The work to provide that positive influence goes beyond greeting the kids at the front door. Every morning FAITH volunteers wander from classroom to classroom at Cornelsen Elementary, dropping into class and visiting with students. FAITH volunteers wear identification that permits them to enter classrooms at will — and they do.
Haworth said the freedom to roam the hallways and classrooms is due to the support of the district.
“It’s nice being a part of a small community and a school system that’s open to us and lets us be a part of things,” he said.
Mark Van Meter, principal at Cornelsen, said the positive influence FAITH volunteers have on students outweighs any disruption in the class schedule.
“I’ve told them since the first day, they’re welcome in this school 24/7,” Van Meter said. “I want them in here doing what they’re doing.”
“Our teachers have been supportive of the whole thing,” he said. “They invite them in at any time, and if the FAITH guys are in the classroom, the teachers will just wait until they’re finished. They know the impact this has on the kids, and having someone provide a positive influence on them is huge.”
Van Meter said the feedback on FAITH has been “nothing but positive, from the parents, teachers and definitely the kids.”
FAITH board member Michael O’Brien said the group has received positive feedback from some of the district’s single parents, who appreciate the positive influence in their kids’ lives.
“A lot of the mothers, particularly the single moms, you can see them light up to have a positive male influence showing an interest in their kids,” O’Brien said.
He said FAITH volunteers get as much, or more, out of the program as the kids and their parents.
“It’s an opportunity to contribute to something great,” O’Brien said. “If you can say at the end of your life, ‘I helped change a kid’s life,’ then you can say you’ve done something great.”
The FAITH board is weighing options to expand its presence to Chamberlain Middle School in Fairview and has seen interest in modeling the program for at least one other area school district.