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The Well Community Church hosts event to inform, connect communities

This is the first article in a two part series covering the sessions hosted at Discover Fresno. Journalists Andrew Rieker, ’21, Carston Salezler, ’21, Addison Schultz, ’21, Kamryn Schultz, ’19, and Sam Cross, ’19, attended the event at The Well Community Church. 

The Well Community Church hosts Discover Fresno, an event to inform and connect attendees with local organizations impacting Fresno, as a followup to Hope Fresno 2015. Over 200 people gathered at the church for a morning of engagement and discussion. The Breakout Sessions were hosted by Every Neighborhood Partnership, Pregnancy Care Center, Fresno Rescue Mission, ESA Love Inc., Youth for Christ, City without Orphans, Chrysalis House Inc., Westside Church of God, Saint Rest Baptist Church and other community leaders.

Director of missions at The Well, Kyle Guerrero shares insight into the The Well’s efforts in supporting organizations and individuals impacting the community of Fresno.

“We had a huge building campaign called Cultivate,” Guerrero said. “Out of Cultivate and all of the money we fundraised, the first $500,000, we want to give back to the local community. Out of that $500,000, a lot of the people that are going to be at Discover Fresno are going to be recipients of that.”

For the next three years, organizations will have access to $10,000 a year as a grant process.

“That’s just saying, ‘Hey you guys are doing great stuff in the city,'” Guerrero continued. “‘It’s gospel-focused and focused on the needs of our community. We want to help propel that financially.'”

Keynote speaker Neighborhood Church pastor, Joe White began the morning with a keynote speech with the event splintering into separate groups discussing various issues. Attendees had the opportunity to attend two breakout sessions.

Sam Cross | The Feather Online

The Well Church pastor Christopher Schultz, left, introduces Discover Fresno to members of The Feather Online staff before the event began, Feb. 9.

Human Trafficking

Kim Contreras hosted the breakout session covering human trafficking. She not only discussed the human trafficking issue worldwide but also the human trafficking that is in our city of Fresno.

Contreras accepted the call to work in urban America while attending John Brown University. She joined the World Impact Fresno in 1993. Through a relationship with a friend down the street named, Hopie, Contreras was introduced to the realities of human trafficking.

“Things are changing,” Contreras said. “We have folks that are able to speak out to share their stories and dreams, because things are changing. We have a law enforcement personnel that are now seeing the women as victims, pursuing advocacy for them, and seeking to get them help right where they’re at.”

Christa Weins also spoke at this session. Weins is the lead educator at Central Valley Justice Coalition, a faith-based non-profit organization made up of churches, agencies, and individuals working to prevent human trafficking in California’s Central Valley. Weins shared how trafficking occurs in areas such as Fresno.

“We (Fresno) have the second highest concentrated poverty in the United States present,” Weins said. “The first is Bakersfield. So in our little area of the world, there are a lot of people living in concentrated generational poverty. And what does that create: a lot of resources and desperation.”

“If I have grown up in poverty my whole life, that’s all I know,” Weins continued. “If somebody comes up to me and says, ‘I can get you money fast,’ it might sound risky but so is my living situation. We’ve seen labor trafficking in all areas, from construction, to nail salons, to hotel industry, agriculture, you name it. Human trafficking is working through there, because what sounds good may not always be the way that was promised.”

The following tweet promotes the Discover Fresno event.

Weins then shared how high school students can identify human trafficking, in addition to offering preventatives on their own campuses. By being aware of your online presence and seeing certain red flags, everyone, she said, can save a life from human trafficking.

“A lot of stuff is happening online,” Weins said. “So one thing that you can do is be honest with yourself and with your friends about what your looking at, about who you’re talking to, and then to be able to say, ‘hey, that’s not good for us.'”

Weins went on to encourage young people to participate and change the conversation. She highlights students are growing up in a society where a lot of things are available that weren’t available to her when she was young, and certain abnormal behaviors are marketed as if they’re normal and everybody does it.

This following podcast includes Carston Saelzler interviewing Kim Contreras at Discover Fresno.

“The reality is it’s not, and not everybody does it,” Weins continued. “So if you’re a high schooler and your friends are joking about some things, it can be really hard to be the one that’s like, ‘that’s not funny.’ But that’s what needs to happen.”

Weins challenged young and old to not be afraid to ask the hard questions, but to identify red flags and take action. According to Central Valley Human Trafficking Statistics, more than 480 human trafficking victims have been identified between 12 to 72 years. These 480 victims have chosen to be identified and share their stories. 

Human trafficking isn’t just the illegal sex trade. Trafficking can also be seen in workplaces, like construction and nail salons.

If you or anyone you know is or has seen human trafficking please call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 888.373.7888 for more information. Or text INFO or HELP to BEFREE (233733).

Kamryn Schultz | The Feather Online

Breakout session leaders converse with listeners during the break between the two periods.

Foster Care and Adoption

More than 1,900 kids in Fresno County spend their childhood in the foster care system due to neglect, abandonment, or abuse. To stop this number from growing, organizations like City Without Orphans partner with local churches to impact life change in these vulnerable children throughout the city.

Social worker Ashley Phelan works as the match coordinator for Chrysalis House Inc., a non-profit adoption agency in Fresno. Developing a passion for orphan care during college, Phelan uses her spiritual adoption into God’s family to signify the importance of physical adoption in our city.

“I believe that God has put me in this place because there is such a need for orphan care in our community,” Phelan said. “I didn’t realize the significance of adoption until I recognized my spiritual adoption as a daughter of Christ. By adopting kids into our homes, we are demonstrating the spiritual adoption that we have into the family of God.”

Phelan encourages the community to recognize the importance of foster children community members, and hopes everyone from students to community leaders and churches see the value in stepping up.

“It kills me when churches don’t want to be involved or are ignorant of the orphan care needs in our city,” Phelan said. 

In the following podcast, Ashley Phelan shares ways for students to get involved in foster care and adoption.

Opportunities are available for young teens to volunteer to help their peers through participating in drives, volunteerism, and prayer. Volunteers that are 21 years or older have the opportunity to speak up for children in court through Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). Phelan shares more ways high school students can get involved.

“Prayer is one of the best ways that students can support the orphan care community,” Phelan said. “Advocacy is another great way. When you take what you learn and make other people aware of it, that is always huge.

City Without Orphans also seeks high school volunteers to babysit during respite care nights so that parents can take a break, and to host drives for hygiene, clothes, or luggage to support kids moving from house to house.

To get involved with City Without Orphans or make a donation, visit their website.

Pregnancy Care Center

Sam Cross | The Feather Online

Over 200 people gather at the Well Church for Discover Fresno, Feb. 9.

The Pregnancy Care Center offers help and hope to women facing unplanned pregnancies through education, counsel, and resources. The non-profit offers free, confidential pregnancy testing, classes, ultrasound examinations, and post-abortion support to women in crisis. Established in 1984, Pregnancy Care Center uses their self-coined the “Love Approach” to offer help and empathy to women in the community.

Executive Director of Pregnancy Care Center Kristi Burkhart was born in 1966 and placed in the adoption system. Using her own story as motivation and inspired by her own adopted children, Burkhart encourages individuals and couples who come to Pregnancy Care Center to choose life for their babies.

“I came into Pregnancy Care Center as a volunteer,” Burkhart said. “That fanned my passion for the sanctity of life into a huge flame and it led me into this position.”

As Pregnancy Care Center equips others to guide people through unplanned pregnancies, volunteers practice building rapport, gathering information, sharing truth in love, and offering help to those who are unsure of the next step.

There are several ways for students to get involved with the Center. Each year, the Change for Babies campaign raises money for the non-profit by encouraging people to collect their loose change in baby bottles. Volunteers can help assemble bottles in addition to promoting the campaign and raising awareness. The student body as a whole could also decide to collect change and donate to Pregnancy Care Center to continue serving women and mothers in the community.

To get involved with Pregnancy Care, visit their website.

If you or anyone you know is facing an unexpected pregnancy, contact the Pregnancy Care Center at 559.237.0683.

This is just the first article in a two-part Discover Fresno series on how how students, teachers, parents and area residents can get involved, partner and connect in critical issues that are affecting greater Fresno. The second article in this Discover Fresno series will be published next week.

The Feather continues it’s coverage of local issues affecting Fresno. For more on the coverage of community issues, read Living to see the dream, community remembers Martin Luther King, Jr. and Residents discuss Fresno’s north-south divide. Last year Cross also wrote a two-part series on Fresno homelessness: Fresno residents reflect on homeless crisis, pt. 1 and Fresno residents reflect on homeless crisis, pt. 2.

For more articles, read COLUMN: Las Vegas finds identity in Golden Knights and Promo: Boys tennis starts up season practice.

Carston Saelzler, Addison Schultz, Kamryn Schultz and Sam Cross contributed to this article.

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