Fresno Street Saints

June 18, 2008 6:34:26 PM PDT
The City of Fresno ranks among the nation's highest for concentrated poverty. 40 percent of west Fresno residents fall into that category. That too often means increased gang activity and violence.

However, a group of pastors is working to lift people up one child and one family at a time.

I spent the morning in west Fresno at the invitation of seven men of the cloth who call themselves the 'Spiritual 7 - Fresno's Street Saints'. Their mission is to restore west Fresno to a healthy place to live and raise kids.

Kids with full tummies is one way to start. These days the recreation room at the Bigby Villa apartments is bustling with activities and food. It stands in a neighborhood often plagued by crime and other gang activity.

And the residents there are thrilled with a free breakfast and lunch program the pastors started here on Monday. Just ask Jessica Espinoza a Bigby Villa Resident: "It helps my family a lot since everything went up we come over here every day to come and eat."

The meals program is run by seven clergymen who got Fresno's E.O.C. to provide the meals and they provide the pastor-power. Each has a not so godly past. The present is a different story: they are going to feed, mentor, counsel and lift up west Fresno children and families says Pastor Ed Nunn of 1ST Union Baptist Church: "Everybody has a specific talent, so we take 'em and put 'em together."

Another pastor, Lee Pointer is mentoring three youngsters who grew up where he did. Today gangs want them as much he does. Pastor Lee Pointer: "You approach them where they are. We came from that same area, we came from the same neighborhood, and we know the language. -- I attach with 'em, all the 'Seven' does. We have a heart for them and they feel that heart."

Beona Gardner knows the pain of gang violence, too. Her son, Willie, an Edison High School football player died following a drive by shooting as he walked home from practice 12 years ago.

She knows that West Fresno kids without a man in the home will turn to gangs fill that void. Beona Gardner: "If that's they way you gonna find it in a gang, well: 'He love me, he's taking care of me, he's teaching me and I'm learning.' And that's who they look up to." Pastor Ed Nunn's of 1st Union Baptist Church explained how the '7' are determined to change west Fresno's human landscape. Their collective experience can connect to kids of all kinds and offer them hope and skills to succeed the right way. "Pastor Ed Nunn: The main thing, focus, is to help these young men and women to grow up to become young men and women not also in the prison system."

Each of these young boys have kin or friends involved in gangs. Their mentors are determined it won't be part of theirs. And that's why Beona Gardner is part of the group's grief counseling program. She believe things can be different: Beona Gardner, I mean hey, they can go to the White House if they want, you know? It's to make young people understand that there is something better in life.

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Fresno Street Saints
1727 L. Street
Fresno, CA 93721
559.233.2000 x 102

www.fresnostreetsaints.org
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