Frankford native Chris Gulledge strongly believes that unlike Batman and other fictional characters admired by children, fathers are the real heroes. Once a struggling single parent, Gulledge knows first hand how difficult parenthood can be for men of all ages, and he’s now determined to provide support and assistance to those who need it.
His Evolution Requires Our Endless Support, better known as H.E.R.O.E.S. is an idea conceived by Gulledge in 2004 that is now on its way to becoming an active program in Frankford. H.E.R.O.E.S. aims to serve as a college-like program for at-risk fathers, both young and old, who are struggling to become the fathers they want to be.
“I was a young single parent to my son who’s now 18,” said Gulledge. “I made a mistake, as people do, and I disciplined my son the way that I was disciplined as a child, which was with a belt. To make a long story short, legal charges resulted. The judge said he didn’t believe I was trying to hurt my son but the law is the law.”
Gulledge was ordered to take both parenting and anger management classes and was put on probation.
“I lost my son, my career, my car and my apartment because I cold no longer afford them,” said Gulledge, who was a drug and alcohol addictions counselor working with adolescents. “It ended up being one of the worst and probably best times in my life.”
Losing most of what he had was bad enough but Gulledge explained that the hardest challenge quickly became finding the time and support to fulfill all of the judge’s orders while at the same time trying to get his son back and find a new career.
“I was lucky enough to have my father in my life,” said Gulledge, who eventually got back on his feet with the support of his family. “But others are not as fortunate. It was at this time that my passion and desire to help other people came into play.”
Although the concept for the program developed in 2004, Gulledge admits to having to “put it on the back burner” until his friends and colleagues encouraged him to revisit the idea in 2013. H.E.R.O.E.S. now has a committee of six who are actively working to get the program up and running.
Focusing first in Frankford, Gulledge wants H.E.R.O.E.S. to serve as a fatherhood advocacy program for all fathers but more specifically targeting those who are at-risk going through the criminal system, or from low-income environments. Having to balance counseling sessions, education classes, employment, finances and all the other obstacles that come with being an at-risk male make the responsibility of fatherhood very difficult for these individuals.
“But we’re going to make sure you can do everything you need to do in order to become the best parent you can be,” said Gulledge.
Each individual is assigned a life coach, similar to an academic advisor in college, and a specific number of credits that need to be completed in order to graduate from the program. Credits are earned from the various general areas such as therapeutic services, education, employment, health and fitness and legal services. Subcategories can include resume building, interviewing advice, parenting classes, couples counseling, nutrition and dietary advising, and much more. The amount of credits needed to graduate depends on how at-risk the individual is upon entering the program. Those who are less at-risk need fewer credits.
“It’s really designed around the individual,” said Gulledge. “We just want to make sure that you have everything you need all under one roof.”
Gulledge was raised in Frankford and witnessed first hand how the family-oriented community has changed over the years. Though he argues it’s not the worst place in the world, Gulledge believes that many people in Frankford could benefit from having a program like this in their own neighborhood.
“As much as I want to save the world and would love to see H.E.R.O.E.S. as a national program, I would love for Frankford to be the testing ground,” said Gulledge. “I believe you have to help home before you can help anywhere else and Frankford is home for me.”