The Pillar Center lends a helping hand to Benton Harbor dads

NOW: The Pillar Center lends a helping hand to Benton Harbor dads

BENTON HARBOR. Mich.-- According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, nearly one in four children grows up without a father figure in their lives. This can lead to greater risk of poverty, crime, drug abuse, and more.

One Benton Harbor dad, James Gunter, found this true in his own community, and decided to do something about it. 

“I’ve never known a moment of life without my dad, so it’s hard to even imagine not being there for my family," Gunter said. "It’s really important to me. It’s the biggest job I'll ever have. And I just want to help other dads do the same thing.”

James Gunter admits it himself, "I wasn’t living up to who I was raised to be, to put it mildly.” 

But then, amid a global pandemic, his daughter was born.

“It just really forced me to be like ‘here are the shoes you need to fill; you going to sink or swim?' I’m trying to swim.”

But he was in over his head, he said, and noticed that new fathers aren’t often given the resources to be set up for success.

“I think there’s a lot of nuances to fatherhood that aren’t discussed enough," he said. "One example would probably be how to deal with the postpartum period, or just the birthing process in general.”

He decided to fill that gap, and it started with a podcast and eventually a nonprofit, "Present Pillars." 

“From there, you know, we just started connecting with people," he said. "Telling stories, creating a platform for other people to tell their stories.”

Men like Sylvester Crayton. 

“I personally, myself, grew up without a father, so this right here is very important for the community," Crayton said. "Most importantly for people who look like myself because we like need it most. We need a present person in our lives, you know, someone to look up to, someone to guide us.”

And men like David Watson.

“I felt like I didn’t have nobody to talk to, like I didn’t have nobody I could relate to,” Watson said. “I began to attend the meetings that began as just conversations, just somewhere where men could get together and talk about various things that we’re going through, decompress, as well as get advice.” 

Friday, Gunter cut the ribbon on The Pillar Center, a physical resource hub for fathers and families on Benton Harbor’s Main Street. 

“Now we just have this space where now we can have a hub where you know we can do parenting classes, or if you have a tumultuous relationship with your co-parent, bring them here. Like, make this an exchange point," Gunter said. "We can help you, but just tell us what you need.”

And soon, Watson will open a barber shop inside the center, just one of many resources being made available. 

“Working with Present Pillars, I can be behind the chair, have conversations, as well as offer the help that Present Pillars is offering," added Watson.

Learn more about Present Pillers here.

The Pillar Center is located at 204 W. Main St, Benton Harbor, MI 49022.

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