Wanting to break the cycle of gang violence and car thefts that got Fresno ranked the least desirable place to live out of 227 American cities, Rev. Roger Minassian founded Hope Now For Youth (HNFY) in February 1993. Rev. Minassian hired Christian college students, often street youths themselves, to work out of churches and provide vocational counseling for at-risk young men, including many gang members, aged 16 to 24. While HNFY has been a great success, the Covid-19 crisis means the program is collecting a variety of items. Speciﬁcally, the program is looking for toilet paper, Kleenex, diapers, wipes, canned goods, dry foods, bottled water, hand sanitizer, Tylenol, cold & cough medicine, store gift cards, and other items.
In 2004 Pastor Roger Feenstra took over from Rev. Minassian and led HNFY through 2017. Today Pastor Bryce Naylor leads HNFY from its headquarters at 2305 Stanislaus Street in Fresno. HNFY goes throughout the city recruiting gang members in the same 16-24 age range, ﬁnding young men in and on parks, malls, bus stops and streets. Over the years some of the youth that HNFY has taken in have become staﬀ members. Others have been employed at dozens of local businesses, beginning with Valley Children’s Hospital, which started by hiring four HNFY graduates in 1994. The ﬁrst hire at the hospital still works there today, 26 years later. The hospital ended up hiring 25 more graduates, of which 21 proved successful. Some of the other employers have included Pepsi-Cola, Piccadilly Inn Hotels, Radisson Hotel, Fresno State, the City of Fresno, and local businesses including Valley Truck Parts, Quiring Corporation and Quickie Designs. Around 300 businesses have been involved in the program.
Since 1994 HNFY has placed thousands of at-risk young Fresno men in jobs. With 23,000 gang members in Fresno in 185 gangs, there’s a lot of work still to be done.
HNFY’s mission is to take these young men from the streets to Christ and a job. It hopes to turn former gang members into fathers and family men. It succeeds because the counselors have been where the recruits are. The recruits see men who used to be where they are now but now have jobs, homes and families. They want the love and acceptance they lack. “To fall short of providing loving encouragement and gainful employment for any young man who sincerely desires our assistance in leaving the streets is to consign him to prison or death. God helping us, we will not fail to always oﬀer life.”
The ﬁve pillars on which HNFY builds its mission are:
• A caring relationship which builds self-worth and conﬁdence.
• Models of Christian values and work ethic which inspire productive citizenship.
• Preparation for and placement in a job as an achievable economic alternative to gang crime and violence.
• Scholarships which encourage further education.
• Training of families in healthy relationships.
Paul Varela, another Vocational Placement Counselor, left the gang and drug life when he entered HNFY. He went on to work for Jack’s Car Wash, the City of Fresno, and the Keiser Corporation before returning to HNFY as a counselor. He holds an AA in Biblical Studies and is working towards his BA. He enjoys the martial arts. Paul is also married with ﬁve children.
Sergio Perez, HNFY’s Lead Vocational Placement Counselor, had a troubled childhood of constant ﬁghting and vandalism and was expelled from the entire Fresno School District. He was about to take his life when he met and had dinner with Rev. Minassian. That dinner saved his life. Sergio graduated from HNFY in the late 1990s and has been with HNFY since 2000. He owns and manages a triplex apartment complex and is married with three children. The apartment complex serves as a home for new recruits at below-market rents.
Anyone interested in learning more should visit www.hopenow.org. Also, if you would like to watch a video about HNFY’s history, DVDs are available. Contact the organization at email@example.com. HNFY is also on Facebook and Instagram.
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