The woodshop of the expansive building on north Fourth Street was abuzz with machinery and movement as I walked through. There, production lead Richard Webb was sawing along the grain of a seasoned piece of wood, and the earthy smell of cedar rose through the workshop. Alder, cherry, walnut, African mahogany, red oak, poplar—these are just some of the materials that the craftsmen at Fathers Building Futures use to create small art pieces, boxes, toys, refined cutting boards and caskets for business partners throughout the community as well as individuals who shop directly at the storefront, or happen upon the nonprofit's booth at local growers' markets, the Balloon Fiesta and other happenings.
Yet, what Fathers Building Futures delivers in each of their pieces—and the many services they provide—is something more than a physical object, it’s a direct buy-in to a better community and a vote in favor of freedom for everyone in it—emotionally, financially and socially. “We're one of the only places in the Southwest that is run by felons for felons,” Joseph Shaw, the operations manager at Fathers Building Futures, said. “All of our supervisors and leads—other than a few people—we're all convicted felons.” And that piece is at the core of the program, which grew out of PB & J Family Services, an organization that works with families in New Mexico to break cycles of abuse.
“One of the number one reasons for someone going back to prison—and it costs $45,000 a year to incarcerate one person—is not securing housing or a job,” Emet Ma’ayan, the executive director of the project, which became its own 501(c)3 just this year, explained about the need for this kind of programming in our community. In answer to that cycle—which is costly in so many ways—Fathers Building Futures works specifically with fathers coming out of the prison system, merging job training with financial planning, therapeutic work and a steady paycheck, to open more pathways for these individuals and by proxy, their families.
Fathers Building Futures runs a woodshop, an auto detailing center, mobile power washing services and offers freight and delivery in the region. Fathers apply for the program and, if accepted, choose the area they would like to work in, along the way picking up numerous other skills and finding vital support systems. Just in the hours that I spent at the building on a Tuesday morning in September—a site which they have occupied since their beginnings in 2008— a small group was gathering for a therapeutic session, another man was sitting down with a financial advisor to talk about about his IRA and auto detail supervisor Willie Rankin and auto detail lead George Sandoval were working on a Jaguar in the garage. And that was just a sliver of the work happening at Fathers Building Futures.
“Even on the work side, we still do a lot of therapeutic work,” Shaw explained. “It helps the water still. When you come out of incarceration, it’s like dropping a pebble in water—the ripples start happening.” Shaw explained that for some people, they have to start at zero: finding a job, planning a bus route and putting together a schedule. Working at Fathers Buildings Futures makes the process easier, and maybe even accelerated, helping people in the program to find balance—to still the waters. “Now we have the structure,” Rankin explained, taking a break from his work in the garage to unpack the significance of his work there. “We get to do things our way, [it's] the first time in my life when we get to do something our way and run it.” Rankin, who is going on five years with Fathers Building Futures, and is the manager of the auto detail side of things, runs the show in the garage along with Sandoval.
Back in the woodshop, art is constantly being made—but perhaps more importantly, there is a story that courses through each piece crafted there, and in every moment of service provided in the other divisions. “It's a social enterprise,” Dara Romero, head of HR and community relations described. “It's a nice balance—the dads are coming out and they have issues—maybe transportation, housing, getting reconnected with their kids, maybe drug addiction—there's a whole onset of barriers that might keep them from getting to a sustainable place. … It's about baby steps—asking: What are your needs right now and how can we help you?” The efforts of the program have had transformative effect. More than 350 men have successfully completed the program. Graduates of the financial education classes have gone on to start their own businesses; those who have earned CDL certifications have made successful careers for themselves in freight and delivery; woodworkers have continued work with local businesses. These successes sustain the day-to-day. “Just watching the struggles and growth of these guys—that's why I come to work everyday. To see them succeed and overcome. It's not about the work, you know? It never has been. It's a part of it, but that's not what motivates me to come in,” Shaw said.
It's inspiring to see the conviction of everyone involved with Fathers Building Futures at work, and connecting with the program is simple. You can shop for products from the woodshop online, or visit the storefront during business hours. You can also schedule auto detailing in the shop, or find out about opportunities for mentoring. If your business is hiring, you can contact the organization to see if the right candidate is soon to graduate the program. You can also schedule a tour, and on Oct. 23, in conjunction with the Before I Die Festival, you can join a group walk-through and learn specifically about casket making. (More information about that event at agoodgoodbye.com.)
There are many moving parts here—and there are ambitious goals of sustainable employment, healthy families and, perhaps most importantly, the erasure of the stigma of having a felony background. “Each day there's something new developing here,” Ma’ayan said. “The small pieces are coming together, we see people getting jobs, and we see the stigma changing.” Fathers Building Futures is the only organization of its kind in New Mexico—and it is evident just from being there that their work is having tangible impact. Supporting the art of this social enterprise is simple; and buying that art carries a second meaning—of confidence and love for our community. Shop now—or just find out more information—at fathersbuildingfutures.com.