By Lorie Ham
Hope Now is an organization in Fresno, California that does great work helping gang members start a new life. While it is good to feature worthy charities all year long, Christmas time feels like an especially perfect time to be inspired by the work of others and to do more ourselves to help those in need. I recently chatted with their executive director Vanna In to learn more. Vanna has held this position since March of 2021, but his connection to Hope Now goes back much further than that. Their mission statement is: “Two steps and you’re up. A job and caring relationships lifts a gang member from the streets and into transformation, belonging and generosity.”
Q: Can you tell us exactly what Hope Now is?
Vanna: Hope Now is about Jesus Christ and a job. We work specifically with young men that have an arrest record, dropped out of high school, or used to be part of a gang. Hope Now is about community outreach, job training, job placement, and discipleship.
Q: How did you come to work at Hope Now?
Vanna: I first came to Hope Now as a client from 2001-2003. I came on staff as a vocational placement counselor from 2003-2011. I applied for the position, which was open to everyone in the nation starting in December of 2020.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your background?
Vanna: I was a former gang member that got caught up in the early to mid-‘90s for a drive-by shooting. I gave my heart to Christ in the county jail in March 1994. I changed my plea from “not guilty” to “no contest”, essentially admitting my guilt. I was released after eight years in the California Youth Authority and ICE.
Q: When and how did Hope Now first come to be?
Vanna: Hope Now was birthed out of the Los Angeles riots in the early ‘90s. People were not setting fires to the neighborhoods in Beverly Hills but in their own neighborhoods in Inglewood, Compton, and South-Central Los Angeles. A pastor who felt called to work with gang members quit his position at a church and started Hope Now For Youth. That was almost 30 years ago. 29 years later, we’re still going strong, and our hope is to continue to live out the vision that God has for this ministry: helping young men’s family tree be changed through Jesus Christ and a job.
Q: Can you tell us more about what Hope Now does?
Vanna: Aside from training and placing men in jobs, we walk with them through all the trappings of life. We help them to navigate Biblical manhood and model to them what it means to follow God and to lead their families. We help them with the basics: obtain their birth certificate so that they can obtain their ID card and social security card, which are all requirements to get a job. We help them obtain their driver’s license and they can use our vehicles if they do not have familial support for that.
Q: That’s awesome! Do the gang members come to you or do you reach out to them?
Vanna: Both. We engage in community outreach and a lot of the guys also come to us by way of referrals from those that have completed the program or those that are currently still in the program.
Q: What is the best thing about working there?
Vanna: It is a privilege to serve those that have walked in our shoes. We know the struggles because all seven staff members are former gang members, and some of us were former rivals in our past life. We have instant credibility with the guys that we walk alongside because we can say with integrity that “I know what you’re going through.” We have that lived experience and we were able to overcome our traumatic past and push through and show what it means to be a part of society.
Q: What is the hardest part?
Vanna: It is most hard when the guys lose their job or split up in their relationships but the most painful is when they lose their lives. In close to 30 years, a lot of guys have lost their life prematurely through gun violence or other random incidents.
Q: That is sad. Why do you feel that Hope Now is important?
Vanna: Hope Now is important because we are willing and have worked with those that society has cast off. These are individuals that have no hope and when someone has no hope and cares not for his own life, why would he care for your life or mine? Hope Now is an organization that literally deals with life and death situations. Having a job and living a life that is legal and paying the bills is crucial for guys staying off the streets.
Q: Future goals of Hope Now?
Vanna: Aside from growing in staff, we hope to grow our carpet cleaning business and our food trailer. We just started both companies this year and we look forward to both growing simultaneously.
Q: How many gang members does Hope Now help per year?
Vanna: Hope Now serves close to 150 gang members per year. 20-40 may graduate in a calendar year and 50 may get a job.
Q: How can someone get help?
Vanna: Our office number (559) 237-7215 is always available to those that call. They can just drop in anytime and have someone hear them out. Guys are constantly calling and dropping in.
Q: What kind of needs do you have? How can we in the community help?
Vanna: We need prayer, new monthly donors, jobs, and volunteers. We look forward to opportunities to present at service clubs, foundations, Bible study groups, etc.
Q: Where can you be found online and where are you located?
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
Vanna: Hope Now is grateful for those that have supported us throughout the years. We want to say thank you to our past and present supporters and look forward to connecting with our future donors.
Please consider this holiday season, and all year long, helping Hope Now with the wonderful work they do!