The Midlands Fatherhood Coalition's new office on Columbia Highway North is providing the assistance that Jacob Pou needed.


“I didn't know what to do; I was lost,” said the 37-year-old Graniteville resident, who was one of the speakers during the office's grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday.


Pou is the father of 14-year-old twins.


“I've been out of work for a while, and I literally started selling everything that I had so that I could pay child support,” he said. “I own nothing really now, except for my clothes. I was getting to the point that I was about ready to give up – not on life, but because I was out there looking for a job and I couldn't find anything.”


Pou attended his first Fatherhood Coalition peer support group meeting last week, and it's given him hope.


“I learned a lot in that session,” Pou said. “I left with ideas that I had never thought of, about how to handle situations that come up.”


Today, he is scheduled to start a job that a friend told him about.


“The pay is low, but it's enough that I will be able to afford to pay child support; I'm happy,” Pou said.


While he works, Pou plans to continue to go to the Fatherhood Coalition's office and take advantage of the free services it offers.


“Maybe, one day, they'll help me find a better-paying job,” he said.


The Midlands Fatherhood Coalition has offices in Fairfield, Lexington and Richland counties in addition to the Aiken County office, which has been open since June.


The organization's mission is to teach fathers how to become responsible and involved parents.


Many of the Fatherhood Coalition's clients are men who haven't paid or have fallen behind in paying court-ordered child support, so the organization's priorities include assistance with job searches and with the acquisition of skills needed to get jobs with higher pay.


The Fatherhood Coalition's local staff members are Program Specialist Mike Croft and Job Developer Darrell Payne. Croft worked at the Savannah River Site for 31 years, and Payne is a former Department of Social Services employee in Richland County.


“My primary responsibility is to go out in the field and find jobs for our participants,” Payne said. “I'm approaching different employers around Aiken, and I've gotten a great response from the few that I've talked to so far.”


Croft is overseeing the office and making sure it runs smoothly.


“I'm available if anybody wants to drop in, and I can make appointments for them,” Croft said.


The Fatherhood Coalition has a 24-week program that focuses on three areas: parenting, healthy relationships and financial stability.


“It's not just about paying child support, it's also about growing as a father,” Croft said. “We want to make sure that our participants understand that there are benefits for being engaged in their children's lives.”


Christine Wright, director of the Department of Social Services in Aiken County, was another speaker during Wednesday's event. She described the Fatherhood Coalition as a “great resource for our families.”


For more information about the Fatherhood Coalition in Aiken County, call 803-508-9572 or 803-508-9477.


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.