FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Each day, a group of men gather to help end gun violence in Fresno. They are part of a local non-profit called Advance Peace Fresno.
Recently, the non-profit has received $300,000 in federal funding to continue their efforts.
They focus on establishing relationships and de-escalating gang-related situations.
Program Manager Aaron Foster leads the group. "With those relationships people trust us enough to tell us when something is about to happen and allow us into their space after something has happened." says Foster.
The non-profit has four so-called Change Agents. They are responsible for making connections with gang-prone areas in Fresno.
Change Agent Marcel Woodruff says this includes southwest and northwest Fresno.
"Predominantly African American, and now we are expanding because we have seen the trend shift, in terms of where gun violence was occurring more frequently. So now we are beginning to focus where gun violence is the most frequent, more Central Fresno and more in your Hispanic gangs," Woodruff says.
Since COVID they have also seen the average age of shooters decrease. "The average age was about 18-21, it went down to about 15-19." says Woodruff.
The program hits home for the men in the non-profit, including founders Foster and Woodruff.
Marcel lost a mentee to gun violence. Aaron lost his two kids to gun violence.
Foster says the loss is painful every day, but it's motivation, "You can use the bad and use it for bad or you can turn something bad into something good. Because I am sure that someone didn't lose a life because of the work we are doing. So that's a plus. I can't get my children back but I can keep somebody else from losing their children."
His advice to kids considering being in a gang, is to 'live everyday like you are loved - there are alternatives'.
Advance Peace says the population they work with suffers from three insecurities - food, housing and transportation insecurity.
"Many of them have not been outside, maybe a three-mile radius from their home so they are just trapped in this environment." Woodruff explains.
Access to a good education and jobs is also a problem.
Men in the non-profit have been victims of gun violence. Recently they took a trip to the Creek Fire burn scar, where they worked on clearing up debris and planting trees.
"They have a therapeutic experience of planting a tree, being in nature, being in a different type of air and being able to reflect for the first time in a peaceful and productive manner." says Woodruff.
Finding a sense of belonging, and putting an end to gun violence.
Advance Peace Fresno gets $300k in federal funding to continue its effort to end gun violence
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