“Can I have some more syrup on my pancakes, dad?” The question could be heard around the many tables that were scattered across the multipurpose room at George L. Forbes Early Learning Center. The aroma of bacon and sausage filled the hallways; the Dad’s Pancake Breakfast was underway.

Since 1998, The Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland has hosted the Merlin L. Hayes. Sr. Male Involvement Pancake Breakfast. The initiative brings fathers together with their children for quality engagement; an interaction that’s proven to be imperative to young boys’ and girls’ life success.

“I think anytime you can give a father and his child a space in time to be together and create memories, it’ll be life-changing,” said Stephen Gettis, Family Service Worker for Head Start.

The Dad’s Pancake Breakfast was started in 1998 by Merlin Hayes, who worked as a cook for CEOGC for 11 years, as a way to encourage fathers to become active in their children’s lives. Hayes and four other male co-workers saw a need for male involvement, so they created a men’s group called, M.A.L.E (Men Approaching Lifetime Empowerment.) The breakfast was birthed from this initiative and at its inaugural event at CEOGC’s Louis Stokes, over 100 men attended. Mr. Hayes passed away in 2007 and the breakfast was officially renamed to the Merlin L. Hayes, Sr. Annual Male Involvement Pancake Breakfast. Four years ago, the baton was passed down to Steven Rhodes, Head of the Fatherhood Initiative at CEOGC. It’s been going strong ever since.

Gettis has been a part of this event for four years now and has been involved with the Fatherhood Initiative as a facilitator and participant. For him, the opportunity to serve is much more impactful than the once-a-year breakfast.

“We do a weekly meeting called, ‘Men Conversation Wednesday’ where fathers come together and speak on issues they’re dealing with alongside other fathers,” said Gettis. “We use a curriculum that touches on grief and emotions, fathers roles, communication with the child’s mom and more. We’re helping fathers learn how to be better parents–this will enable our sons and daughters to be successful citizens of society.”

After all the food was eaten, the fathers had an opportunity to learn about some key resources Cuyahoga County offers to lower-income families and every person left with a gift; a shirt that read, “Dad, a son’s first hero and daughters first love.”

“Thank you to the men that showed up and participated in the event,” said Gettis. “Each of you truly is the real-life superheroes in your children’s lives.”

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