“Hurting people hurt people,” says Marshall, 53, who is a former client of SAFC himself. He was guided into the program in 2013, during a season of forced separation from his three children. Even as Marshall’s marriage ended, the restoration he experienced through SAFC’s classes and workshops made him want to devote all of his time to the cause.
Marshall says SAFC helped him “start seeing the woundedness in our communities. And I said, ‘I want better for my kids. I want my daughter to marry a good man. And what are we doing to inspire men to be good?’ So it really tied into my own sacred purpose.”
Between court referrals and the 15 percent of clients who find SAFC through a family member or on their own, “the demand is ridiculous,” says Vasquez.
And what, exactly, is driving all of this demand? For starters, economic hardships that have plagued families in these communities for decades.
“Financial struggles are often what tightens the screws,” says Marshall. Most of the men and youth clients of SAFC live in neighborhoods that were originally segregated along racial lines and have long been subject to public neglect—little development, insufficient housing and other infrastructure.
These men are carrying the weight of those injustices.
Another factor: “failed policies,” a phrase that comes up a lot among SAFC leadership. For instance, the policy that says single moms living with their kids in public housing can’t let the kids’ father move in with them if she wasn’t already married when she obtained her housing. So if dad moves in, the family loses its housing. “We’re dealing with a generation of children who grew up being told, You better not say your dad’s here. Your dad can’t be here,” says Vasquez. “Think of what that makes a kid believe about being a dad.”
“The policies are haunting us,” says Frank Castro, AIT’s program director, who has been associated with SAFC for most of its history. He says that men—either by their absence or by their behavior—are often regarded as the drivers of family and social ills. But SAFC encounters countless men who have been harmed by those very social ills, men who are the legacy of decisions made and cultures created well before their time.