Schenectady festival aims ‘to build a community of fathers, one father at a time’

Walter Simpkins, executive director and founder of Community Fathers Inc., gets to know a local child.

Walter Simpkins, executive director and founder of Community Fathers Inc., gets to know a local child.

Fathers of all ages, creed or race will have their day Saturday at the first “I Am Father” festival on Jay Street near Schenectady’s City Hall.

“Fathers are the caretakers of the 21st century,” said Walter Simpkins, executive director and founder of Community Fathers Inc., the sponsoring organization of the festival. “More are raising their children. It’s a shift to taking and being part of the raising of their children. It always was the other way around, but fathers have stepped up to the plate and now are being part of raising their kids.”

The festival will feature the familiar scenes of live music, a DJ, food vendors and family activities, but much more will be on offer.

There will be workshops held at the nearby Urban Co-Works at Jay and Franklin streets on fatherhood, nutrition, meals that heal and communication with kids. There will be a father forum that will include interviewing fathers; book vendors selling information on family and fatherhood; and a guest speaker, Gordon Collier, a former Schenectady resident who is now a private therapist living in Washington, D.C.

The hope is that anyone who is a father can find help or just information on being a father, as well as being part of the community, to understand the importance of having a father active in the family.

“In the past, fathers were to just provide and protect, but the emotional support was not there,” said Simpkins, who noted that he is also a father and a grandfather. “It was different then in family court. Fathers never had a chance. Mothers got the financial system, but fathers could not be allowed into their lives. Men even went into hiding. Fathers didn’t have a voice. But now fathers are given equal billing with the mothers.”

All this is what prompted Simpkins and others to begin having support groups for fathers back in 2006. In 2009, they incorporated as Community Fathers Inc.

“We had events for the community and then conferences at [SUNY Schenectady County Community College]. But we outgrew those to go to Union College,” Simpkins said. “We just wanted the community to understand the importance of fathers because social services and family courts were giving fathers problems. Then COVID knocked us out for three years, so instead of a conference we’re having a festival to invite more fathers. Our mission is to build a community of fathers, one father at a time.”

Among the programs his organization provides are: a fathers support group that meets on Mondays; classes in silk screening, the culinary arts and urban landscaping with the city’s Re-Tree Initiative to encourage men to become entrepreneurs; classes to teach new recipes to cook and choosing a plant-based diet through a Meal & Heal program; and working with men still incarcerated so that they can learn how to become accountable for their actions.

For their commitment and creative approach to dealing with fathers, Community Fathers Inc. received an Innovation Award in 2018 from the Fathers and Families Coalition of America.

“Our group was created by and for, and run by fathers,” Simpkins said. “There is no fathers manual on what it is like to be a father and how to become that. So we’ve taken what we’ve learned as to what works, and what was needed on how to be responsible and be in the lives of our children.”

Simpkins said he credits Schenectady with the success of the mission.

“It has provided an inclusive and innovative and creative environment to develop. The support has been phenomenal,” he said.

I Am Father

WHEN: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: 105 Jay St., Schenectady

ADMISSION: Free

MORE INFO: www.communityfathersinc.org

Categories: Life and Arts, Life and Arts

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