Bringing Peace to Troubled Fresno Neighborhoods

FRESNO, Calif. The Bigby Villa apartment complex there is ground zero for the 'Street Saints', a group of local pastors, former gang members and west Fresno citizens. Their mixture of 'mean street' savvy and spirituality is paying off.

It began as an idea of Pastor Ed Nunn, founder and one of the original Street Saints, seven pastors trying to turn young lives toward a positive life.

Today they lead dozens of new so-called 'Street Saints' working to make a difference in young lives says Pastor Nunn, "We're always encouraging the kids so now they feel they're in an environment where they feel like they can make it."

Their mixture of faith, charity and hard work helped bring peace to this once troubled complex. More than 2-hundred kids and their families have had steady volunteer mentors who use the same methods gangs do. Brian King, a former gang member and drug dealer joined the Street Saints efforts two years ago, "We offer 'em the same thing - family, and we offer 'em hope. We offer protection." King added another approach to the efforts. He knows the lifestyle first hand.

So does 43 year old Manuel Ramirez. After a life as a Bulldog gang member and 18 years total in prison he chose to leave that life it behind. He relied on his determination and his faith, "I just decided kinda to let it go little by little and the Lord sort uh helped. (He) had my back so he made it easier."

When asked by the Street Saints to help survey South West Fresno neighborhoods on the need for pre schools he agreed. And he came face to face with gang members in their homes. "It was like a challenge for me to go door to door and ask questions do the survey, you know." But he and others did.

The result was a 300 thousand dollar award to the saints from 'First Five of Fresno County'. It will fund an early childhood education program.

Another 220 thousand from the "Wellness Foundation" of California will help the 'Saints' expand beyond the Bigby Villa neighborhood. And other organizations and individuals are donating too.

Thanks to support from Wells Fargo, this summer a silk screen T-shirt shop will double as a business, educational and training program. Its owner, Myrick Wilson, is also a committed Street Saint wanting to improve his community, "I've come to the realization you're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem. We're coming. If you don't know about us, you will."

The 'Saints' are on the march in West Fresno.

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