When you join a gang in third grade, good life choices don’t often naturally follow. Jeovante Jones, originally of Chicago, knows that first hand.
“People don’t want to be bad, but when you grow up in that environment, it’s like second nature,” he says. “They don’t know how to go about it, but they want to change.”
Now, the father of six is experiencing unprecedented success—in both his career and his personal life—less than a year after spending several months in Community Action’s innovative, in-depth Fatherhood Initiative.
The Beloit man signed up for the program in late 2014, after spending seven years in jail. Prison was a wake-up call, “a blessing,” even, as he sees it, because it forced him to re-evaluate his life. He hadn’t been able to meet one of his daughters until she was 6 years old.
“It’s heart-breaking. I’m not going to say I was a good father, because I was making some bad decisions, but to be always in your kids’ lives, then snatched out, it was heartbreaking,” he says. He knew he wanted a change.
“I heard some good things about [the program] from some guys I know, coming from prison,” he says. “I was told that it was a stepping stone to changing your thinking, you know? That they could help you do certain things to change your life around—get a new job, have people to talk to.”
From the moment he met program manager Erick Williams, he knew he was in the right place.
“Hearing his story motivated me, because sometimes you get discouraged,” he says. Williams taught him to be patient, and to push through. “I could tell there wasn’t anything fake about Erick. You can tell that he’s real, that he really genuinely cares about people.”
Still, the employment piece worried him.
“I hadn’t had much work history, so I was kind of worried about how my resume would work,” he admits. But with Community Action’s help, he was able to not only land a plum manufacturing job, he was soon able to continue with employment training on-site at the agency’s Pathways Center in Beloit, and gain work as an equipment operator and engineer.
He has his sights set on more: more education, an apprenticeship, and furthering his career while supporting his family. He’s not content unless he’s striving, and his ambition is palpable. His plans are to get his CDL licenses, and “to keep moving up in my company, making myself more valuable, taking care of my family and trying to set a good example for a change.”
But Jones will be the first to say the Fatherhood Initiative isn’t about just getting a job. It’s helped him rebuild his relationships, and slowly work on regaining his family’s trust.
“There’s a big difference in all my relationships, as far as my family goes,” he says. “I’m really grateful for them, also, for giving me a second chance. But today things are great—things with my kids. Our relationships are better than ever.”
If Jones were to reach out and send a message to a man considering the program, he says he’d tell him this: “It’s going to change your thinking pattern. It’s not just about being a man or a father, but sometimes we can get sidetracked. I think the program goes back into the past, and kind of catches where you went off track.”
As for Jones—he knows he’s on the right track, and he plans on staying there.
“I just got addicted to doing positive things, whereas before I used to be addicted to negative things,” he says. “Keep striving for greatness, just don’t let it sit back and come to you.”