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WARREN Company donates money to keep fatherhood project



Published: Fri, June 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The agency won't have money to service the program until later this summer.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

WARREN -- A parole officer and part-time entrepreneur is carrying the ball to keep the Warren-Trumbull Urban League's fatherhood program in play during a gap in funding.

The Researching Fatherhood Initiative Program was to have shut its doors today, laying off five employees and halting services to the 86 men who are taking part.

The program teaches responsibility and job skills to men who have not been supporting their children.

The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services no longer had money to fund the program, employees were told two weeks ago, but money is expected to come through in August, said case manager Tynetta Hall. It runs on a budget of about $200,000 per year.

Helping hand: Keith A. Gunther took it upon himself to block the hole. His year-old Internet sports apparel company, Defense1st, is donating $3,500 to help pay salaries until the state funding comes through.

"It is a ton of money for us, especially with us just starting out," said Gunther, who runs the company out of his Newton Falls home with his wife, Jill.

The company sells T-shirts, shorts and sweat shirts and other apparel with its logo over the Internet and at summer basketball camps.

"We did two camps this summer, and it was very profitable for us, and you remember that you have got to give," he said.

Seeing is believing: Gunther, an assistant basketball coach at Newton Falls High School, is in a position to realize the importance of the fatherhood program, which officials say is the county's only program for noncustodial parents.

In his day job is as parole office for Trumbull County Eastern District Court, he says he frequently sees men neglectful of their family obligations.

"It is a wonderful program," he said. "You have got people who right now are not fathers to their family, and this is a program where they can get help."

Gunther, 33, said he became aware of the program by meeting the staff in the various adult basketball leagues in which he plays.

Inspiration: The program tries to inspire men to take financial and other responsiblity for their children and encourages them to get the education and job skills they need to support themselves. The participants meet every day for three weeks, then continue to meet with staff periodically as they enter the workplace or school.

All of the 86 men who began the program this year are now either in jobs, school or job training, Hall said.

"I don't see how anyone can't support this program," Gunther said. "It is just what our county needs."

For the next two months, Gunther is also donating 30 percent of profits from sales from his Web site, www.defense1st.com.

siff@vindy.com




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