When Santino was just eight years old, his mother passed away from sickle cell disease. Soon after, he moved in with his grandmother who, two years later, died of cancer. By the age of 11 – after having his world turned upside down far more often than any child his age should have to experience – Santino moved in with his father.
“A lot of it I did not understand, and I felt like I was lost,” he said. “I really didn’t know what to do. I had to grow up. I played with kids on the street, just learning, you know, bad and good. And I just matured from a lot of different things.”
Today, Santino is 32 with four kids of his own – two preteen daughters and a pair of eight-year-old twins. He tries to pass down to his children the values his grandmother instilled in him: manners and respect. “There’s not a rule book on how to be a father. There [are] books on how to be a mechanic and work on cars, but not for that,” he said.
He first heard about ECS from his cousin who was enrolled in the RISE Initiative, a program that connects adults ages 18 and older to one-on-one career coaching and jobs. Already gainfully employed, Santino learned about the Father’s Group from staff.
He’s referred a handful of friends to the group – friends he believes have knowledge to be shared with their peers.
“I think we can all learn from each other. I like the atmosphere because it’s different minds … different things [people] can speak on … what they’ve been through,” he said. “I definitely listen more than I talk. I feel like if you don’t listen when somebody’s talking, you might miss out on something. Nobody is wrong in there. What they’ve been through, they’ve been through. There’s no right or wrong answer.”
As for his kids, Santino says he will “always show some sort of love and commitment to being around.”