Hope Now For Youth

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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 info@hopenow.org. HNFY is also on Facebook and Instagram.

From time to time FOCUS 360 will include profiles of people and organizations making a difference in our community. It is not known whether those profiled approve or disapprove of Regency Investment Advisors or its advisory services provided. This article reflects the opinions of those interviewed, and should not be taken as a request for you to donate to any particular organization.

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Hope Now For Youth

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