August 3, 2016 - 9:03am -- Anonymous

For Maketia Haralson, a passionate volunteer with Ohio State University Extension, Franklin County, giving back wasn’t what he initially planned to center his career around. In fact, had you talked to him a decade ago, his outlook would have been much different than it is today.

A native of Michigan, Maketia grew up watching both his father and his mother helping friends and neighbors in varying times of need. “Caring for people is a big part of who I am,” Maketia said. “Even though I tried to fight it at first… it’s been a journey for me.”

In 2004, Maketia was enrolled in Columbus State Community College full time while also working full time in a commercial grocery store warehouse. Then when his son was born and he became a single custodial father, his time and money management skills were put to the test. While Maketia worked hard to provide for his family, for the most part he believed that simply paying the bills or buying gifts was enough to solve any of his parenting or relationship problems. In other words, he was more focused on having the money to spend on his loved ones, instead of the time with them.

That philosophy, coupled with poor money management skills, left Maketia in a constant struggle to maintain his lifestyle. “We (he and his coworkers) were all working hard, doing 12-hour shifts and working seven days a week... but all to have nice ‘things.’ We weren’t trying to live within our means or save,” he said.  It took repeated conversations with his family, a few failed relationships, and finally some strong words from his then seven-year-old son for the message to hit home: Maketia needed to reevaluate how he was spending his time and paycheck in order to truly take care of what mattered most.

“That’s when I began to really understand the significance of financial wellness and how it’s connected to being a good parent,” he said. So, Maketia took charge of his financial future and enrolled in two OSU Extension, Franklin County educational classes, including the financial literacy money management workshop. There he learned how to create a monthly budget, reprioritize his expenses, and develop a savings plan – which ultimately has enabled him to spend less time at work and more time with his son.

Now, with a better handle on his finances and work-life balance, Maketia is working on his bachelor’s degree at DeVry University and has returned to his civic roots. He volunteers part time with OSU Extension, Franklin County’s Community Development team at the branch office in Weinland Park, answering the phone, helping develop materials, and working to promote some of the programs that he himself took advantage of to get back on track.

One of the programs he’s most passionate about is the Father Factor program – a unique initiative designed to help non-custodial parents become better parents, partners, and providers through financial literacy training. As part of the program participants take part in money management classes and receive one-on-one counseling to help develop a personal financial plan, and they gain access to various employment and educational resources. In addition, participants who owe child support can work to get their driver’s license reinstated through the program and, if eligible, their child support order reviewed and modified. Funded through The Ohio Commission on Fatherhood and co-managed by Action for Children and TAPP, the two-part program is free and held monthly at several locations throughout Columbus.

Despite the program’s benefits, many potential participants are wary of the initiative and its collaboration with the Franklin County Child Support Enforcement Agency. “They have a lot of negative expectations, distrust, fear, and skepticism with the court system and Children’s Services,” Maketia said. “So you’ve got to get them past those and any other challenges they have to attending.”

In his role with OSU Extension, Franklin County, Maketia works to help increase enrollment in the program. Beyond marketing it through traditional channels, he and the Community Development team are continually reaching out to community centers, churches, social agencies, apartment complexes, food banks, barbershops, beauty salons, and other local establishments, asking for opportunities to help reach potential participants. If you are interested in learning more about the Father Factor program, please call 614-247-1983.

Once, while speaking to a group at the Columbus Urban League, one of the men present turned out to be a recent graduate of the series. “He said when he took the class, he wasn’t expecting to get anything out of it… that he was just going through the motions,” Maketia said. “But then he stood up and told all the other guys that when you take the class, basically the only way you don’t learn something is if you don’t want to.”

Hearing those testimonials, and knowing the importance of being an active parent first-hand in his own son’s life, is part of what motivates Maketia to serve the community. In the future, he plans to continue his education and aspires to translate his volunteer work into a career. “I’m still new to this (office), but I was an advocate before I even knew I was doing it,” Maketia admits. “I think this is where I’m supposed to be.”