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Former Gang Members Find Work, Hope in Fresno Faith-Based Group

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Unread 09.22.11, 02:24 PM
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Former Gang Members Find Work, Hope in Fresno Faith-Based Group

On 09.22.11 09:00 AM posted by Lucy Feil

As featured in a recent issue of World Magazine, the faith-based organization Hope Now for Youth is successfully reaching out to young men embroiled in gangs and violence in Fresno, California.

Hope Now helps gang members and their families break a generational cycle of violence and poverty by achieving lasting self-sufficiency through mentorship and job training.

The Hope Now program equips young men with job skills and helps them find jobs, teaching them the values of personal responsibility and work ethic necessary to become self-reliant. Beyond material well-being, however, Hope Now seeks to provide further stability and enrichment through classes on marriage and family and one-on-one counseling by mentors, some of whom are Hope Now alumni themselves.

The organization was started in 1993 with the idea that steady work and loving relationships could transform the lives of gang members. Hope Now recognizes that gang-related crimes and poverty are often due to a lack of any responsible role models in young men’s lives. The program tries to remedy this problem by building consistent, caring relationships with the men and ensuring that each receives guidance tailored to his specific needs.

As Roger Feenstra, the executive director, explains, “We do things a dad would do.”

After the initial training, Hope Now helps young men find jobs around the Fresno area, which is not an easy task, since most are former gang members, sometimes with criminal records. In the past 18 years, however, the privately funded organization has placed around 1,700 young men in jobs with 300 businesses, with an 85 percent success rate.

Hope Now’s accomplishments highlight the importance of addressing not just the physical needs of those who are hurting and impoverished but the greater relational needs of the whole person. Material lack is usually only a symptom of broken or missing relationships. Local organizations like Hope Now are better equipped to attend to all the needs of individuals, both material and relational, in their communities than a distant government bureaucracy.

The success of many private charitable institutions such as Hope Now is a testament to the efficacy of localized, grassroots organizations in addressing the root causes of poverty and social breakdown.

As Heritage’s Ryan Messmore points out, private non-profits can more effectively deploy individuals’ resources toward transformational approaches than the federal government can. Unfortunately, President Obama’s recent jobs plan proposes to reduce the charitable deduction for wealthy Americans, which could result in billions of decreased annual giving to non-profit organizations.

Instead of decreasing an incentive to support non-profit groups and implying that the federal government should be responsible for addressing individuals’ needs, policymakers should seek ways to encourage charitable giving and protect the role of effective organizations in addressing poverty.

To learn more about Hope Now for Youth, check out World magazine’s article on the organization here.

Lucy Feil*is a member of the summer Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.*Click here for more information on interning at Heritage.

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