A few years ago, Ivan Echeverria, 30, was on the streets selling drugs and involved in gang activity. Now, his barbershop “Faith and Fadez” is one of several “safe houses” that will provide residents the opportunity to receive employment training and mentorship.
“This place is open for people that need jobs and are willing to learn,” remarked Echeverria.
The Hope Opportunity Purpose and Empowerment (H.O.P.E.) Culture initiative, led by Victory Outreach Pastor Rick Alanis Jr. and Speech Consultant Michelle Sabino, intends to partner with the San Bernardino City Unified School District, non-profit agencies, city leaders, and law enforcement agencies to direct people to basic services and emotional support, as well provide avenues for personal growth and development.
“We want to make a difference,” said Alanis Jr. “We’re making the right connections with the right people to impact this city. It’s all about bringing a holistic approach to empower our residents relationally, economically, educationally, and spiritually.”
H.O.P.E. culture is in the process of obtaining non-profit (501c3) status and is developing after school programs. Alanis Jr. explained Victory Outreach launched several “safe houses” as a means to give consistent guidance to young people in tough neighborhoods. It was spurred by the murder of 12-year-old Jason Spears in March.
“When the young boy (Spears) got killed, we went there right away,” he said. “But we just didn’t want to come and do a vigil, and then leave. Instead, we left a safehouse there.”
Alanis Jr. explained that dozens of kids now stop by the Griego Family’s household almost everyday to hang out, receive food, and participate in prayer groups.
“You’ll be surprised the things these young kids share with us,” Alanis Jr. said. “A lot of these kids just want to get high and be on the streets. Our community needs mentors that will teach them about budgets, how to prepare for interviews, and dress for success.”
Sabino, who is working on a database that will help residents locate agencies that offer information on social services, youth programs, and employment assistance, said she returned to San Bernardino to help residents, “get through the roadblocks.”
“The uptick in the violence made me decide I needed to do something,” she said. “We could go and pray for as many people as we want, but unless we teach and help these people, we are leaving them in the situation that we found them in.”