WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Investing in children by investing in fathers is the mission behind Project FACT, aimed at empowering fathers, father figures and helping the fatherless.
"Since she (his daughter) was 2 years old, she's been with me ever since," said Brandon Marshall. "I'm raising (her) on my own."
"It's going to help him in his future," said Alvin Smith.
"With the way that the world is nowadays, these things are golden," said Juleen Jacobs, a father to six children.
Marshall, Smith and Jacobs are three of many fathers who said they want the best for their kids and now believe it starts with themselves. There is help for fathers through a program called Project FACT, which stands for fathers and children together.
"When you have strong fathers, you have strong families," said Shamus Gordon, the founder of Project FACT. "And when you have strong families, you have strong societies."
Gordon said they target both ends of the spectrum.
"Working with boys and young men from the age of 6 right up to 18, as well as fathers and father figures 18 to 100," said Gordon.
It's a nonprofit that Gordon said was born out of a need first recognized at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County.
"When we had parent meetings, we weren't getting fathers," said Gordon. "Moms would show up, grandmothers, big sisters, but very few dads. We started wondering, was it because dads aren't out there? Is it because they are out there and not interested?"
Thus came the idea to target days directly.
"There was a time when even I started believing that dads weren't interested," said Gordon. "And I realized that isn't true. It is about how we engage them and how we meet them on their level."
"That drew me in like a moth to a flame, honestly," said Jacobs, who said it's all about learning how to put in the work for your kids. "Kind of build that old-school mentality of a village."
Ernest Mitchell is a fatherhood educator for Project FACT. It's a drive that can only come from personal experience.
"Growing up with a single mom, I found that void in my life that I needed a male presence," said Mitchell.
Chameka Sowles said her past helped her become a fatherhood advocate.
"I lacked the natural pure love that a girl would get from her father," explained Sowles.
Sowles now advocates for fathers to be involved.
"Most of the times, the mom is the gatekeeper, especially single mothers," said Sowles. "It's just advocating letting these fathers in their kids' lives."
Programs include classes like passport to manhood. There are always ways for daughters to connect with their dads. Project FACT also works to facilitate conversations about tough topics like custody, paternity, child support and more.
"They have a discussion about what's the difference between discipline and punishment," said Gordon.
Health is also a guiding topic. Dr. Kitonga Kiminyo, an infectious disease specialist with the T. Leroy Jefferson Medical Society, mentors as he believes the health of dad impacts the family.
"It's important to not only advocate for better health for the community, but specifically for the fathers," said Kiminyo. "Again, better fathers lead to better well-being for not only the children, but the families, which have been torn apart by this COVID pandemic."
The founder said, ultimately, it's a multi-faceted approach to raise a generation of potential fathers, changing the landscape of what fatherhood looks like in the community.
"Even the dad with the most-checkered past can still be an asset," said Gordon. "Because he can teach his child and other children what not to be."
Project FACT will host a father-child day Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sand Pine Park in Boca Raton. It is free for fathers and father figures.