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formerly gang involved.
Evan Hess is a self-described man of few words, but everyone at Homeboy Industries knows this about him: He has a five-year-old son named Xavier—a “mini me” with a long ponytail just like his dad—who adores him.
This wasn’t always the case. When Evan was released from prison in 2013, his son was two and a half years old, and Evan hadn’t seen him since he was an infant. Xavier’s mother, Tracy, invited Evan to visit…on Father’s Day.
“I was scared. I didn’t know if he would know who I was,” Evan recalls.
But when Evan and Xavier laid eyes on each other, Evan’s long absence melted away. They had such a great time that Tracy invited Evan to visit every other weekend. He was inspired to take parenting classes at Homeboy, and a former trainee encouraged him to enroll in Project Fatherhood.
The program, offered in partnership with Children’s Institute Inc., was founded by Dr. Hershel Swinger, who observed that fathers were often left out of programs designed to strengthen troubled families. Project Fatherhood gives fathers the tools they need to actively participate in their children’s lives.
The group “opened my eyes to a lot of the traumas in my own life,” Evan says. “My parents separated when I was a baby, and they were both in their addiction, so my grandparents raised me. My parents were often absent. I didn’t think it impacted me, but it did.”
Many Homeboy clients experience a version of this realization, which is a crucial part of the healing process. By connecting early childhood traumas to their choices to join gangs, commit crimes, or abuse drugs, Homeboy helps clients rediscover their self-worth and begin to plan for the future.
Evan started seeing his son more frequently. He and Tracy resumed their relationship and moved in together, and he was selected for Homeboy’s 18-month Job Training program. Soon, other dads in Project Fatherhood began coming to him for advice.
“They saw me with my son. They saw pictures I’d post on Facebook of us doing things together…. When I started to speak up in Project Fatherhood, I saw that the therapists in the group were listening to me. I realized maybe I’m not a dummy.”
Today Evan’s son is a huge Star Wars fan and loves playing T-ball, which Evan coaches. Evan enjoys taking part in opportunities his own childhood lacked, but like every good parent, he acknowledges his son’s individuality.
“He’s his own character,” Evan says with a smile. “I see a bit of myself in him, but not enough to scare me.”
Today Evan works as a Data Management Associate in Homeboy’s Curriculum & Education department, while studying psychology and child development at East Los Angeles College.
The skills he’s learned at Homeboy helps him daily as a father and as a partner. “Now when I get frustrated or resentful, I can step back, breath, and reevaluate the situation before taking a different approach.”