When George Cuff first drifted into A Father's Place, the Conway truck driver showed up to support a friend who was trying to turn things around.
It was Cuff, however, who was transformed by the experience.
“It just changed my life,” the 37-year-old said. “It really did. Emotionally, mentally, they gave me a different outlook.”
For 14 years, A Father’s Place has offered job training, parenting classes, adult education and other services at its Conway headquarters near Racepath Avenue. Last year, the group served 926 people, most of them from the Conway area. But if city officials and the organization’s leadership can agree on the terms, the nonprofit will move across U.S. 378 to an old police substation, allowing the group to expand its offerings.
“We’ve got this one meeting area,” said Wallace Evans, the group’s executive director, referring to the small room where Cuff and nine others gathered for employment boot camp Wednesday. “We can’t have multiple programs going on.”
If A Father’s Place finds a way to lease the city facility, Evans said the job training could accommodate more students. He could purchase additional computers because he’d have extra lab space — the station is around 4,400 square feet, about four times larger than the current headquarters — and there could be more classes, too.
“We could just do more to serve the community,” he said.
Evans pitched his plan to Conway City Council Monday night. He had hoped the city might donate the building to A Father’s Place, but he said the council seems more amenable to a long-term lease.
Conway Mayor Alys Lawson said city officials want to see A Father’s Place expand, but they need more specifics about how many people the group can serve at the substation and what the terms of the lease should be.
“They really do great work in the community,” she said. “We just need to know how the city plays into the programs.”
Evans insists there will be further discussions with the city. He said the idea of moving to the substation has been kicked around for a few years, but he’s hoping Conway’s completion of a new public safety building will clear the final hurdle for an expansion of A Father’s Place.
He also wants the organization to spur improvements in the Racepath area, which has some blighted buildings and boarded up homes.
“How can we just revitalize our area and that entire street?” he said. “That street has a rich history. It was the hub of this community at one point.”
These days, Evans said, the name Racepath is synonymous with drugs and crime. He hopes to change that reputation. The director has a three-year plan for the area that includes creating parks and walking trails on green space near the old substation. Some large oaks tower over the thick grass on that property.
“It’s not a huge area,” he said. “But it’s enough that it could promote recreation and fitness and some of the things that we champion here.”
James Beech, a 74-year-old retiree, supports the proposal. He lives in the house closest to the old police station.
“They’re good people,” he said. “It’s better than a juke joint or something like that. A Father’s Place is kosher.”
The greatest impact
Apart from improving Racepath’s image, Evans said the greatest impact of the organization’s expansion would be enabling the program to touch more lives.
“We work with, sometimes, a disenfranchised group of folks,” he said. “Some of them are probably very discouraged about their opportunities in the labor market. Sometimes, they’ve had criminal backgrounds. Just a lot of negative things there that they don’t feel really good about. … A large part of what we do, sort of the foundation, is about motivating them and letting them know that they can achieve great things.”
On Wednesday, 10 people sat through the organization's employment boot camp, which offered guidance on tweaking applications and acing interviews.
Jamal Rivera, 39, said when he first came to A Father’s Place six months ago, he thought he knew enough about parenting and landing a job. He soon realized there was much more to learn.
The Socastee man discovered ways of explaining his work history that would leave a strong impression on potential employers.
On the fatherhood front, he found new approaches for communicating with his three sons and their mothers.
“It’s about the child,” he said, “not us.”
Corry Woods, 25, came to the boot camp for a refresher course. He first walked into the organization six years ago, but the Myrtle Beach father of four lost his job last month and returned to A Father’s Place this week to brush up on his job hunting skills. He also turns to the nonprofit when he has questions about family problems, including custody disputes.
“A Father’s Place has been there for me,” he said. “Anything I had a problem with, any ideas I had, I always would bring it to them. A Father’s Place is dads and brothers, uncles, guys you can look up to and even sometimes you can sit here and talk to.”
That’s why Cuff still volunteers here. He completed the parenting program in June, but he enjoys encouraging the other guys, sharing stories about first gaining visitation privileges with his teenage daughter, who now lives with him, and cooking dinners for his 3-year-old son. He frequently gives out his cell number.
“If nothing else, I’ve got a shoulder for you,” he said. “I may not can give you the best advice, but I can listen to what you’ve got to say.”
Cuff grew up fatherless and he wants his children to have the presence and influence he never had.
“I get to be Daddy,” he said. “A lot of people ask me who I am, and I just tell them I’m a father. … That’s my job.”