FLINT, Michigan -- Shon Hart grew up with a father who was technically in his life, but despite living in the same house, the two did not have a close relationship. After the New Jersey native graduated from Michigan State University on a football scholarship, he moved to Flint. Armed with a desire to avoid a traditional 9-5 job and a natural entrepreneurial spirit, he tried owning and launching a few businesses.
After selling or closing businesses, Hart found his faith, and took a job as an Institutional Chaplain in a prison. Inspired by his own upbringing, and all-too-familiar story of lacking father figures, his 501(c)(3) nonprofit, InvolvedDad was born in 2015.
“I thought I was going there to save them (the incarcerated citizens), and actually, it wound up saving me,” Hart said. “I did not think that’s where my transformation would take place. That’s where a lot of what I do today was birthed.”
Initially, he was reluctant to work in the prison, after his brother was murdered during Hart’s freshman year of college. “I had a problem with that whole institution and system, and one of the reasons was because of who was there ... criminals … I just had the mentality that they ought to suffer.”
His goal with taking the job was to convert all the prisoners to become followers of God, as Hart had recently found his faith. “When I got there, I realized and discovered that’s not why He sent me there. It was to convert those men, He sent me there to comfort me, but He also sent me there to serve. That’s when I began to discover who I was, and coming face-to-face with my unaddressed trauma and issues I was battling with at that point, and seeing other men incarcerated dealing with the same trauma. That’s where I created my program Man2Man University to start serving those men who were incarcerated.”
Hart wrote an entire curriculum for the peer-to-peer support group, discussing topics like finances, childhood, relationships, parenting, and economic empowerment. The motivational speaker and author saw the success of the program in the prison, and wanted to offer it in the community as well.
“When I started it in the community, I wanted to provide some resources to men in the community,” Hart said. “Most of the organizations were geared towards mothers, women, or children. There weren’t many organizations created to solve the problem of fatherlessness, or providing services for men to help them become viable citizens, giving them tools to become involved dads.”
The goal is to help children, by helping fathers become engaged in their families’ lives, which is what Hart believes is the missing link. “We believe fathers are a priority, not an option.”
Through helping fathers with rent, child support payments and agreements, supervised visitation services, domestic violence services, community health partnerships, legal support, getting a job, fixing a car, buying a suit, or getting a birth certificate, InvolvedDad’s programs aim to hold men accountable.They also aim to empower.
“We’ve seen a lot of mental health and therapy services provided to dads, and they become more confident about their parenting, and becoming more involved in society because of our organization,” Hart said. “Our theme is strong fathers create strong families, and strong families create strong communities. That’s what we believe.”
Through grants written by Shon’s wife Leah, Community Foundation donors, and individual donors, InvolvedDad is able to graduate fathers from programs, transitioning students to mentors/ facilitators for the next group of participants.
“It's so satisfying to see those who come in your doors beat down and discouraged -- to now being a leader to empower other people,” Hart said. “There’s no greater feeling to see these men, especially from this community, now helping other men in this community.”
The issue at hand is one Hart said is unfortunately not an uncommon one. “We’re all about strengthening families -- white, Black, etc. Fatherlessness crosses color, creed, your economic status, or where you live. Fatherlessness is a challenge in every community.”
Shon admits he never thought working in a prison would be the place where his life would be changed for the better. Today, Hart and 500+ fathers owe their personal and family’s growth and development back to the place where it all began.
“There was a prisoner by the name of David Kaiser, who challenged me about dealing with my unresolved issues with my father,” Hart said. “I thought I was going to help them, and he was key to me starting and launching this whole thing. He would help with the development of content, encouraging me, and challenging me. He’s still incarcerated, but I owe alot to David for where I am today.”To donate, mentor, volunteer, or partner with InvolvedDad, you can visit their website for more information.