Hope Now for Youth

Feb 4, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Community, Helping Hands, Tom Sims

by Tom Sims

Roger Minassian was the pastor of a prominent church in Fresno when his heart was deeply touched by the needs of gang members and felons like Vanna In. He stepped down from his position and his secure salary to give his life to kids on the streets of Fresno, California.

Hope Now for Youth was founded thirty years ago by Roger Minassian.

Rev Roger Minassian

In the movie, Finding Hope Now, as described by the producers, “Santos Delgado chooses to live on the streets rather than endure his father’s cruelty. Reverend Roger Minassian, who knows nothing about street youth, feels called to step outside his comfort zone and help the troubled teen. The lives of Roger and Santos intertwine as Roger learns to become a father to the fatherless and Santos struggles to find a new life.”

Michael Badalucco stars as Roger Minassian and Avan Jogia as Santos Delgado. Locally produced by businessman, Skin Meade, the film told a moving story of Roger’s call, and vision. The real story is even more dramatic and inspiring. And it is being lived out in Fresno to this day.

The organization will celebrate its 30th anniversary on February 23, 2023, at 6:30 p.m. at Clovis Veteran’s Memorial, 808 4th Street, Clovis, CA 93612. Click here for more information.

Vanna In was not there in the beginning, but is a product of Rev. Roger Minassian’s investment in the lives of young people in gangs. I recently chatted with Vanna who is the Executive Director of Hope Now for Youth. He is also the pastor and church planter of a new church called The Pardoned, and the two roles are not contradictory at all.

Tom – Vanna, could you tell me about how you first became acquainted with Hope now for youth?

Vanna – I was first acquainted with Hope Now for Youth because I have a gang in incarceration background and a guy that I was incarcerated with who would’ve been a rival gang member in our past lives, he gave me a business card, and the business card essentially said, Hey, give these guys a call and they’ll help you get a job.

Vanna In

I’m like, what? Who’s going to help guys like us? And he said, no, no, this organization is geared towards helping gang members. And those with an arrest record. I gave them a call, went through the program, completed the requirements, and graduated. Got a job.

Tom – You got a job?

Vanna – Yes. And so that was it. I completed the program at the end of 2001, and I got my job, like my first job, in January of 2002. And those were the days when Roger Minassian was still there. He was on staff. He was writing his book. And John Raymond and Joan Manasian were around and others. So, we had a great team. Then I got transferred to People’s church as a custodian. Then, in June of 2003, I came on staff as a vocational placement counselor at Hope Now.

Tom – So you were actually an employee, a counselor, until you went into the ministry or after?

Vanna – So as soon as I came on staff at Hope Now as a case manager/counselor, I went into the ministry. I volunteered with the youth group at a Cambodian church.

Tom – And you went to seminary and college at Fresno Pacific?

Vanna – Correct. And then Hope Now Bible Church kicked off. It launched in, I think, 2005. And so I was serving simultaneously at the Cambodian Church and at Hope Now Bible Church and then working in the ministry at Hope Now for Youth for a three to four year period.

Tom – My goodness. And when did you, uh, go to North Fresno Church?

Vanna– Here’s what happened. I was on staff at Hope Now for eight years. Then I was briefly the youth pastor with the Word Community Church. And then I moved to Colorado to start Jobs of Hope, which is a Hope Now model-type ministry to gangsters, getting them jobs. And I was there for three and a half years. We started and co-founded that with Pastor Greg Eller and then moved back to Fresno in 2016. That is when I became the youth pastor of North Fresno Church. I was there for three and a half years. And then I became a certified mediator for a year. Finally, I got the Hope Now Executive Director position in March of 2021.

Tom – So you’re entering the third year coming up, correct?

Vanna – Yep. We’re about to celebrate our two-year anniversary and starting the third year in March. A lot of backtracking from those early days in the gang and in prison,

Tom – Were you born in Cambodia?

Vanna – Technically, I was born in Vietnam. But there’s no proof. So, it’s easier just for me to say I was born in Cambodia because I’m of Cambodian origin.

Tom – And it was a lot of prayer in the city that went into your quest to be able to stay here once the INS started tracking you down.

Vanna – INS started tracking me down the moment I was released from prison because I was released from an ICE detention facility. I was released in October 17, 2001. And the reason why is because I was convicted of an aggravated felony. So, when a non-citizen of the United States is convicted of an aggravated felony, most likely you will get deported. I was deported, but just on paper.

Tom – And your Cambodian language skills are not stellar, are they?

Vanna – I would say I’m like a second, third grade level.

Tom – It would have been a real hardship for you and your family.

Vanna – That is the reason why I applied for a pardon because I met somebody else who got a pardon and who was also a deportee. I met him in 2017, and I said, “What do I have to lose?” And so, when I applied for the pardon, I received letters of support and recommendation to stay in America, and I got over 250 letters from the community. I received a full pardon from Governor Jerry Brown and have since become a U.S. citizen.

Tom – It was an honor and a delight to be a part of being able to help write those things. This is only a tiny little part of your life. And yet, we like to judge people on their worst day, rather than their best day. But God has worked so many miracles in your life, and that pardon is one of those miracles. We’re so grateful that you’re still here.

Vanna – Yes, just the fear of being deported at any day. It was just so nerve-wracking. It was just so much stress on our marriage and the lives of our children.

Tom – Well, what the community would have lost is also a factor in all of this because your influence, your experience, your compassion, your passion for what you’re doing and your energy for being able to accomplish these things. You are replicating and duplicating every day. You’re influencing people’s lives. I think you’re really carrying on Roger’s legacy and passion. Can you share what you know about the beginnings of Hope Now and how it started?

Vanna – Hope Now was really birthed out of the L.A. riots from the Rodney King verdict. And for those of us that remember, Rodney King was beaten by cops. It was recorded, and the cops that were involved were found not guilty.

They were found innocent even though they went to trial. As a result, people that were in the inner city set fire to their own neighborhoods. They were mad, there was injustice, yet they set fire to their own neighborhoods. They didn’t go to the affluent parts of Southern California. They set fire to their own neighborhoods. So, they started looting. So, a group of pastors in Fresno felt like, wow, if we don’t do something about that in Fresno, it’s going to happen here.

And one of the questions that the founder Roger Minassian, had asked was, “How much despair and hopelessness must people have to set fires to their own neighborhood?” And as he was watching the news, he thought, “It’s one o’clock in the afternoon, two o’clock in the afternoon. Don’t these people have jobs?” And as you know, in the inner city, there’s a lot of welfare. There’s a lot of SSI and disability.

There’s all types of living off of the system and some are legit. I’m not taking that away. I mean, I was raised on food stamps, but people in the inner city know how to survive. We’re survivors. And so that’s what Roger Minassian saw. He just saw that. It just grieved his heart that people in the inner city would set fires and loot their own neighborhood. And so, he met three young men who had a rough background, who were involved with gangs or were being recruited by gangs.

And he just listened over pizza. He just listened. And after that meeting with them, he pulled over to the side of the road on his way home. He said he just wept, and he wept because of the hopelessness of these young men.

Tom – Isn’t that shown in the movie?

Vanna – Yes. It just broke his heart. Yeah. And so, he told his congregation, “I know that I need to work with gang members. I’ve been called to work with gang members and one of the best ways to help those that are in poverty is to work.” And so, I am one of the 2,500 that have benefited because of Hope Now in the last thirty years.

Tom – That’s amazing. I think Roger is another example of someone God uses. What an unlikely looking guy to be a pastor to the gang members.

Vanna – Exactly. Any of us can think that God can’t use us because we’ve profiled ourselves out of God’s providence. That doesn’t make much sense, does it? When we Christians are in tune with God’s Spirit, it’s easy to have that Moses mindset. I can’t go to the Pharaoh. I, I stutter. But Roger Minassian is a living witness, an example and testimony. He could have said, “I have no gang background. I’m Armenian. What do I know? I pastor an upper middle-class church.”

Tom – He looks good in a three-piece suit.

Vanna– Right. And get God used him because he made himself available. Yes. Yes. And we are that legacy.

Tom – Hope Now for Youth was already making a strong community impact when I came to Fresno in 1996.

Vanna – And it’s going strong now. Every nonprofit and every ministry has ups and downs.

Tom – You are taking Hope Now to a new level. You’re still committed to jobs, still committed to discipling young people, but you have some new ventures, you have some new initiatives, don’t you?

Vanna – We do. One of the things that I was passionate about, and I got my start even before I got into the gangs, was cooking. And I know that people have to eat. And right now, food trucks and food trailers are all the rage across the nation. And so, we were able to raise close to $90,000 on two separate occasions. We bought a food trailer and then we bought a truck to haul that food trailer. And we have officially launched Hope Now Street Food that provides training and job skills, but really mentoring and discipling with the guys that are coming through the program. All the funds for that go back into the organization.

Hope Now worker

And then God led us to a carpet cleaning business. Somebody had an extra carpet cleaning business machine and van, and we bought it. And we’re fully functioning. We’re on. We can take orders now, to clean carpets and provide service.

And again, that is the same concept. We provide a service and have a Hope Now staff member that is working on the social enterprise along with the youth being trained. It is just a win-win all around for everybody. People can connect with those businesses off our website. All they have to do is give us a call, and we will call them back. We can book either carpet cleaning or an event catering for Hope Now Street Food.

Tom – Hope Now Carpet cleaning and Hope Now Street Food. Over the years, I have hired general labor help through Hope Now for Youth. Now you are branching out and becoming more formal.

Vanna – We’ve had thirty years of doing things a certain way, and we’ve been blessed. We want to continue to improve and iron out all the wrinkles.

Tom – I have a Toastmaster friend, Donald Plumb, who was in the printing business. He was one of the first to hire your young people.

Vanna – Yes. People who come from a Christian background and just have a heart for the underdog, like Don, have partnered with us. That is something that Roger Minassian conveyed. He would say, “I’m going to go with underdog because I am for the underdog.” And that’s what Hope Now guys are. And then even business owners like Don Plumb, at one point in their lives, were the underdog. And they were able to rise above.

And I think that’s really the gist of scripture, the gist of the Bible, that we are more than conquers. And so, we are not identified by our past and our legacy is not our past. It is, of course, our future, and that is where we’re going. We are grateful for those that have overcome situations in their own lives and hire some of our Hope Now guys.

Tom – Vanna, how can the people who read this article help Hope Now for Youth?

Vanna – I would say pray for us. It’s a spiritual battle. It’s an emotional, psychological battle. We have men with families that are on the front lines. Sometimes we’ll have guns pulled on us over a misunderstanding. Rival gang members are probably going through the training program at the same time, and they don’t even know it.

Hope Now graduates

So, pray for peace, pray for the staff. And even though business is from nine to five, our guys and our clients get in trouble from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. That is the nature of our work.

A practical way, another way to get involved with this organization, is to provide jobs. If you have a mom-and-pop business or if you are a company that is felon friendly and you are willing to hire felons, give us a call. Get in contact with us.

If you have an event or a party and you think, “Hey, we want to try Hope Now Street Food,” give us a call.

Or if you even have odd jobs, like you mentioned Tom. You’ve hired some of our guys as day laborers either for moving or something else. It could be moving, it could be moving the dirt pile from the front driveway to the back. Whatever it is, whatever that you don’t want to do. If you want to give guys an opportunity to earn some clean money so they can go buy their food and get some job training, call us. Any type of odd job, give us a call.

And if you are part of a Men’s Bible study or women’s Bible study or women’s group, or with a service club, we do presentations as well so that we can raise awareness about what we’re doing here at Hope Now. Even after thirty years, a lot of people still don’t have an idea of what or who Hope Now is and what we do.

We want to get the word out.

Tom – Of course, people can contribute financially to your work by going to your website and using the portal there.

Vanna – That’s right. All our board members give. I give monthly to Hope Now because I believe in the work. So yes, as you know, with organizations like Youth for Christ Navigators, Campus Crusade, we need monthly partnership.

Tom – Thank you, Vanna. It is great to talk to you about this.

Hope Now for Youth Mission Statement

Based on the examples of our Lord Jesus Christ, Hope Now for Youth provides opportunities and support for young men caught up in gangs who want to change their lives and become productive, responsible, and law-abiding parents and citizens. Hope Now accomplishes this by providing:

• A caring relationship which builds self-worth and confidence.
• Models of Christian values and work ethic which inspire productive citizenship.
• Preparation for and placement in a job as an achievable economic alternative to gang crime and violence.
• Scholarships which encourage further education.
• Training of families in healthy relationships.

Website: Hope Now for Youth
Hope Now is a 501(c)3 Community Benefit Organization

(559) 237-7215
2305 Stanislaus Street
Fresno, CA 93721

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 5294
Fresno, CA 93755-5294

Join Hope Now’s Email List:

Feb 23, 2023
5:30 p.m. Doors Open
6:30 p.m. Dinner Program Begins
Clovis Veteran’s Memorial
808 4th Street
?Clovis, CA 93612

Tom Sims is a local pastor (and Grandpa!), writer, and blogger. Pastor Tom Sims spends time pastoring Granny’s Park Community church, leading 4141 Ministries with his wife, Andrea Sims, writing, teaching, and hosting various websites, blogs The Dream Factory where Ideas can be given room to grow, and Facebook pages such as The Politics of Compassion. You can also find him on Facebook.


Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.