When I got the news about the California Peace Prize, I was overjoyed. … The recognition helped on the journey of turning experiences, sometimes very dark experiences, around and finding light in that darkness.
– Sammy Nuñez
Perseverance and passion are hallmarks of community-building efforts in San Joaquin
Sammy Nuñez is executive director of Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, a community-based organization providing services for young fathers and incarcerated men in San Joaquin County. He is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of youth development and responsible fatherhood and addresses violence by improving conditions in his community. He was selected as a California Peace Prize honoree by Cal Wellness in 2010, and his organization has received two additional grants from the Foundation since then.
“When I got the news about the California Peace Prize, I was overjoyed,” said Nuñez. “We who do this work are so focused that we don’t expect anyone else to take notice. The recognition helped on the journey of turning experiences, sometimes very dark experiences, around and finding light in that darkness.”
Cal Wellness established this award in 1993 to publicly recognize and honor the outstanding efforts of individuals who have effectively helped to prevent violence and promote peace in their communities. The award is one of four of the Foundation’s leadership recognition programs, which acknowledge exceptional individuals who are making a difference in the wellness of underserved Californians. Nuñez said he was grateful for the visibility the prize provided. “It catapulted our work to another level. The folks we work with recognize the value of our work and hold it in a sacred space,” he said. “But others do not always recognize the sacrifices necessary or the toll this work takes as we bear witness to atrocities in our communities.”
At the time Nuñez was honored, Fathers & Families was a start-up agency. Ongoing funding from Cal Wellness helped with growth and development. Today the organization offers a wide range of culturally responsive programs and resources, such as case management, parenting classes, financial literacy classes, intergenerational mentoring, and youth leadership development, including youth-led research projects. Fathers & Families strives to create a healthy community, which it defines as safe, strong and resourceful; treating individuals and families equitably and honestly; promoting positive family images and recognizing family strengths; and creating opportunities for individuals and families to achieve health, wellness and their human potential.
“This is becoming a recognized field, and I think it is safe to say that Cal Wellness has had a remarkable impact on our organization’s growth and strategies. We are no longer ‘rag-tag.’ We are recognized and can be more effective,” Nuñez said. “While we have obstacles in our community, we also have one of the most diverse populations in the nation and a solid group in the trenches committed to rewriting our future.”
Fathers & Families serves a community deeply affected by violence and conflict. “Dismissing that violence as something normal creates a pipeline to incarceration and poverty,” Nuñez said. “Cal Wellness has helped us leverage grassroots and emerging practices to instead create pipelines to hope.”
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