We sat down with Charlie Cervantes, IHSD Family Service & Father Engagement Specialist, to talk about his work in building a father figure community.

IHSD: First off, how did you start working for IHSD?

Charlie: I started working in 2001 through Child Care Careers as an aid. I started as an aid for about a year and then became a permanent employee in 2002 as an assistant teacher. I worked my way through Fair Oaks, Half Moon Bay, San Mateo, East Palo Alto, Home Based program and was a home visitor for seven years. In 2015, I became a family advocate for our East Palo Alto site and help father engagement.

IHSD: What can you tell us about the father figure cafés?

Charlie: A father figure café is a physically and emotionally safe space where father figures talk about the challenges and victories of raising a family. They explore their strengths, learn about the five protective factors, and create strategies from their own wisdom and experience to help strengthen their families.

We wanted to make dads feel welcomed and create a warm inviting environment.

IHSD: What is the goal of the father figure cafés?

Charlie: Father figures leave our father figure cafés feeling inspired, energized and excited to put into practice what they learned. The goal of the father figure cafés is to create an intimate environment where father figures can share and support each other as a strategy for strengthening families.

IHSD: How did the father figures cafés start?

Charlie: We noticed a need. We saw that moms were involved in everything. Very female dominated. We wanted to make dads feel welcomed and create a warm inviting environment. I worked with Dalenna (former IHSD Director of Program Services and Quality) to get a grant through The Big Lift to do a community cafe. We were the first ones in San Mateo County to do a father figures café as an agency!

IHSD: What are the challenges of having a father figures café in the community?

Charlie: Every guy has a different schedule. Some of our guys have two to three different jobs or even taking double shifts. It’s hard to get good attendance, and we want everyone to be able to participate. But once they’re in, they’re in. And then, they want to have it on a monthly schedule.

We were the first ones in San Mateo County to do a Father Figures Cafe as an agency.

IHSD: Sounds like a high demand! Are you a father figure yourself?

Charlie: Yes, very high demand! And yes, I am a dad of a 15 year old girl, 12 year old boy, and a 5 year old boy. So the personal experiences I learn with them, I have the honor to share them the other dads. It’s important to get ideas from each other and build a network.


IHSD: Can you share with us a most rewarding experience?

Charlie: It’s rewarding to connect the dads in the community, and let them know that they’re not alone. We have two dads that graduated from our IHSD program in 2016 but continue to be table hosts and leaders. I can’t explain my feelings. Just to see the outcome of the cafes. And to see them continue to come when they don’t have an obligation to the program anymore, that’s very rewarding to me. This is why I continue to work with and advocate for father figures and families. I’m thankful for IHSD giving me the opportunity to do so.