By Darlene Donloe
Alan-Michael Graves is the kind of person who likes to make a difference.
As the senior director of teaching and capacity building at the Good + Foundation, he has positioned himself to do just that.
The Good + Foundation, launched by Jessica Seinfeld (the wife of comedian Jerry Seinfeld) in 2001, is a leading national nonprofit that works to dismantle multi-generational poverty by pairing tangible goods with innovative services for low-income fathers, mothers and caregivers, creating an uphill trajectory for the entire family.
With warehouses in New York and Los Angeles, the Good + Foundation partners with approximately 115 anti-poverty programs across the country. The company also has a number of high-profile male celebrities on its Fatherhood Leadership Council that provide support through fundraisers and advocate for the foundation through their individual platforms.
The company’s goal is to incentivize parental enrollment and participation in programs like counseling, health services, employment assistance, financial literacy, co-parenting classes and more.
Graves said as participants complete specific programming, they receive essential items that families need including car seats, high chairs, diapers and more.
“We have 27 programs we work with across the country,” Graves said. “We provide them with the tools to continue the programming. We want them to want to be there. We provide them with essential items that families need. Every time they finish a particular section of the program, they get essential items. Some of these items would, otherwise, be hard to obtain.”
One of the goals of the Good + Foundation, which gives away $8 million worth of goods a year, is to dismantle multi-generation poverty through the pairing of tangible goods and innovative services.
While it sounds like a mammoth task, Graves insists, “It’s not.”
“It sounds complex,” said Graves, a Los Angeles native. “It’s easier than we think. Just meet the families where they are. In our mind, if you’re trying to work with them, meet them where they are. Instead of making families come to you, go to them. That means including their voice. They want to be heard. What does it look like to them?”
Graves, 50, who is passionate about the work he does in the community, is in a pivotal position within the company. Before he joined the Good + Foundation, he was the director of the fatherhood program at Children’s Institute. He taught fathering skills and how to be a nurturing father. As luck would have it, he’s in charge of a similar program at the Good + Foundation. This is Graves’ wheelhouse.
“I am passionate,” said Graves, a single father of three. “I’m so passionate, I’m tired, and I’m unapologetic about it. I’m intentional. This is a wonderful opportunity to do some good family work that includes fathers. That’s what’s important to me.
“During the first 10 years, the organization’s strict focus was on women and children. The name was changed from Baby Buggy because the public thought we only cared about babies.”
In 2010, Graves said the Good + Foundation expanded programming to include fathers.
The organization concluded that stronger fathers build stronger, more resilient families, which they feel are the backbone of thriving communities.
The more Good + Foundation invests in fathers in their capacity to be engaged co-parents, they discovered a greater impact can be seen on children and families as a whole.
“In 2010, I became a partner with the program when they launched in Los Angeles,” Graves said. “I looked at the program and thought, if we say we are servicing families, we have to include dads.”
Graves, who volunteered to join the Army and was a military policeman for six years because he felt he “lacked male structure,” admits he brings his own sensitivity to his job when it comes to the fatherhood program and the importance of fathers.
“The fact that I didn’t have a father growing up helps a lot when it comes to the program,” he said. “Kudos to those who did. I can tell a story of how strong my mother was.
“As a Black man, I grew up missing something. I talk about how she couldn’t teach me how to shave or walk into a room and be the only Black man there. As a mother, when she would talk about sex, I tuned out. She tried.
“I wasn’t listening because it was uncomfortable. If there had been a man in my life, I may have listened differently.”
An external evaluation of Good + Foundation’s work found that 93% of fathers receiving donations found that their relationship with their children improved, while 82% of fathers reported improved relationships with their children’s mother and/or other relatives. Additionally, 97% of fathers said that donations made them want to continue the life-changing programs provided by Good+ partners.
“It’s hard to change the mindset about fathers,” Graves said. “It’s about intentional training. We have to constantly reinforce the need of the father to be in that child’s life. Data shows that Black men spend more time with their kid — more than any other race.”
In his current role, Graves, who holds a doctorate in education and counseling from UCLA, works with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, child support, the Department of Mental Health, school districts, hospitals, and colleges on teaching professional staffs effective engagement tools.
Graves said, “It’s a slow process” because “people aren’t used to change.”
“We are used to treating men and fathers as secondary,” said Graves, who was raised by his mother, sisters, and grandmother. “And if you add men of color to that we are almost considered non-existent. We are trying to change behavior and change attitudes around why it’s so important to include father figures in the lives of children.”
Graves said, all the science says the outcomes are extremely high if the father and his side of the family are involved.
“It improves the outcome for kids,” he said. “Getting people to understand that, and change the narrative of the deadbeat dad or absent father, might be an added benefit for a child who might be going through some things, especially those involved in the child welfare system.”
Graves runs the Good + Training Academy, which provides using a two-generation approach that builds a family’s well-being by intentionally and simultaneously working with service providers, as well as children and the adults in their lives, altogether.
“We think bridging gaps is through real lived-in training,” he said. “I don’t stand in front and quote from books. I talk about and reflect on real-life situations. We look at training people at their current positions to engage people where they are. We have to change families.”
The bottom line, said Graves, is that fathers are important.
“They bring something invaluable to the child’s life in ways that a mom doesn’t,” he said. “Not to downplay moms at all. Kids that don’t have a father in their lives are three times more likely to commit suicide. I wouldn’t have gone through some things if I had my father’s voice in my life.”
In its 21-year history, Graves said the organization has never lost focus on what’s really important.
“The outcome for all of these families is to provide them with a trajectory to come out of poverty,” he said. “We are unapologetic about targeting families of color.”
Asked if he thought poverty would be eradicated during his lifetime, Graves said it was possible.
“I think it can,” he said. “But until we deal with racism in our society – No!”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.