Former gang members working to end cycle of youth violence in Central Valley

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Pastor James Purser and Robert Aguilar were both hardened criminals, but now they're the founders of a gang-aversion program at Living Word Church. (KFSN)

Two murders in Lemoore involving teenagers back in May aren't going unnoticed in the community.

At the heart of a city struggling with violence stands an unassuming building on Irwin Street where two former gang members are trying to break the cycle.

"We're teaching something that is real, we've been through, and how we've lived our lives," Pastor James Purser with the Living Word Church said.

Purser and Robert Aguilar were both hardened criminals, but now they're the founders of a gang aversion program at Living Word Church - hoping to save younger lives.

"There is no reason why these parents should have to bury their kids," Aguilar exclaimed. "You have 16-year-old kids dying for nothing."

From Lemoore to Huron, teenagers have either been the victim or the suspect in recent homicide investigations. Pastor Purser says in these poverty-stricken areas, teens don't know they have an alternative.

"They can get jobs, they don't have to let a felony hold them back," he said. "They can work, can go back to school."

The two men say breaking free from peer pressure is difficult, but they hope to use their own stories rather than a textbook as a guide.

"I went back as an adult to get my high school diploma, to show you that it is never too late to change," Purser said.

The men plan to hold their first meeting next Thursday - targeting not just 14 to 21-year-olds, but their families as well.

"I tell a lot of these parents, 'If you aren't going to raise your kids, the street will,' and that's the unfortunate reality," Aguilar said.

It's a generational curse that these men are now trying to break.

Related Topics:
homicide investigationviolencekings countyLemoore
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