Zack Shepherd's

Mesa native and former Williams Field quarterback Zack Shepherd recognized how important having his father, Steve, in his life was growing up. He also saw how hesitant his generation was to be a father. So, he created Fatherhood Initiative to spread awareness and promote responsible fatherhood. (Courtesy Zack Shepherd)

Zack Shepherd recognized from an early age how important his father, Steve, was to him and his four siblings.

He was Shepherd’s support system for difficult situations. He was his biggest fan when he played football growing up in Mesa and when he got to high school at Williams Field. He was there every step of the way when Shepherd led the Black Hawks to an undefeated record and state title in 2016.

As important as it was to have Steve there for him growing up, Shepherd knew how important it was to his father to be there for his kids. That was something Steve didn’t have, as his father was an alcoholic and abusive. He vowed to never go down that path, and he stayed true to his word.

“I get one extreme from the other. My dad was a great father, but his wasn’t so much,” Shepherd said. “He’s told me stories my whole life. One year, when he was a kid, all he got for Christmas was a beer and an orange. So, every year in our stocking we get an IBC root beer in our stocking along with an orange.

“It’s a reminder we need to be grateful for what we have. It’s a constant reminder what we truly have in my father and my parents because there’s tons of people who don’t have what I have.”

The support Shepherd had and still has from Steve has been impactful. That’s why he created Fatherhood Initiative to raise awareness and promote how important fatherhood is.

Shepherd’s journey to starting his non-profit began in Italy when he served a church mission. He spent much of that time on lockdown due to the pandemic. It was there he had the opportunity to meet with Jimmer Fredette, a former standout basketball player at BYU.

Fredette shared his non-profit, which then motivated Shepherd to start creating his own. When he returned from his mission, he began his football career at Southern Utah University. He played a year before deciding this season to hang up his cleats. Though, he still attends SUU.

Fatherhood Initiative officially got off the ground last year while he was sitting in a classroom. His professor mentioned non-profit organizations and Shepherd decided it was time to take the plunge. He did research, started a website and officially announced Fatherhood Initiative on his Instagram.

The support he received was unimaginable.

“It blew me away how much support I got from it,” Shepherd said. “It gave me that motivation to keep going. My dad has been way on board, my mom has been way on board because she knows the impact my dad made on all of us growing up. My parents both are super stoked and I’m excited to see where it goes.”

Fatherhood Initiative’s mission is simple: They want to promote fatherhood.

Shepherd said the organization is planning speaking engagements at local high schools that will help younger generations understand the impact fathers make on children, a spouse and loved ones. They will also encourage responsible fatherhood for young men and provide resources and helpful information to current fathers.

Overall, they aim to create a more father-present society, something that Shepherd believes will make an impact based on his research.

He found that 71 percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. Sixty-three percent of youth suicides also stem from homes without a father present. Currently, there are more than 17 million children growing up without a father in the U.S. Shepherd also found that 40 percent of all births take place out of wedlock.

“There are statistics I want to change,” Shepherd said. “One of our slogans is, ‘Everyone deserves a dad,’ and I think that is so true. As I go to speak with groups, my goal is to spread the good that comes with fatherhood.”

Shepherd’s team with Fatherhood Initiative is small for now. He is currently in the process of applying for 501-c3 status, which takes time.

He still works and attends SUU, where he is studying business and political science. This fall, he will be an intern in Washington D.C. for Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.

Fatherhood Initiative stays in the forefront of his mind. He wants to make fatherhood cool, a lifestyle and a goal for those in his generation.

Shepherd is determined to get Fatherhood Initiative to succeed. It’s the same level of determination he had on the football field. Just like he did at Williams Field, he wants to make an impact.

“Every day when I go to work on this organization, I know there are a lot of things I need to get done. But little by little, step by step, I’ll get to where I want it to be. That’s exactly how it was in football.”

To learn more about Fatherhood Initiative and its mission, visit fatherhoodinitiative.org.