On Monday, they met in a lunch meeting and quickly realized their interests in helping the teens of the community were aligned, though Nerey’s program had not yet fully materialized. He had no proper facility in which to provide counseling or safe activities for his teens — and no funding to back his program. Williams had the building and the plan to help him solidify his foundation, though he didn’t have the kind of insight into gang life Nerey gained through his own involvement and time served in prison.
By Tuesday, they were not just fellow advocates fighting for the same cause. They were partners in a collaboration that joins the best of both programs to do more for reaching youth than they ever could on their own.
“I am so excited,” Williams said. “We have a multiplicity of people who want to assist in our effort. People want to volunteer. I’m overwhelmed.”
Williams, pastor of Christ Bethlehem, and about 50 people celebrated the new location of his church with an open house on Saturday. During his introduction of the facility, Williams announced the partnership of his Saving a Life Together (SALT) curriculum with Nerey’s Guiding a New Generation (GANG) program.
“Now that we have the facility, I know we can attract the kids,” Nerey said. “That’s been the hardest part.”
The move gives Nerey access to Christ Bethlehem’s space for a planned boxing ring and room to continue a lowrider bike club. Williams benefits by Nerey’s networking skills and ability to bring in more kids off the streets to go through SALT. Together, they have an opportunity to teach teens who may be gang members or are involved in other negative activities to become responsible young people.
“What we want to teach the kids is how important it is for them to give back what’s been poured into them,” Williams said.
The community has gone years without a boxing ring for kids. Now, in a 1,700-square-foot portion of a suite Christ Bethlehem is occupying on Greg Street, Nerey will be able to bring in professional boxing instructors to coach the youth. The ring will have a hanging punching bag and speed bag, but other equipment, such as gloves, will be needed. Williams said the goal is to eventually set up two rings.
“It’s a great marriage,” Williams said. “We will now have brochures that say, ‘GANG and SALT.’ ”
Williams’ SALT program will discuss major teen issues in modules for 48 weeks of the year. It will be an intensive and age-appropriate look at gangs, drugs, teen pregnancy, abortion, suicide and more. Teens will have to pass a test at the end or else they start over again, and they must be committed to the program in order to access the boxing ring and any other recreational activities and field trips that SALT staff will organize.
“We want to pull the kids out of the neighborhood and to pull the neighborhood out of the kids,” he said.
Wiliams felt called to action when his 10-year-old nephew was killed in a gang shooting crossfire in Chicago. Williams was never a gang member himself, but Nerey brings to the table what Williams lacks in terms of working with gang members.
“If a kid was taken away because of a bullet intended for someone else, ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem,” Williams said to the crowd Saturday. “In our rural areas, gang infestation has taken over. Whether we’re black, white, blue or green, we have an issue.”
Nerey, a former member of a Reno gang who served two years in prison for his part in a drive-by shooting, said he wants to make a difference where he feels no one else can.
“We don’t have (police) badges, we have hearts,” he said. “Now I’m more than just a soldier. I’m a warrior.”
Williams and Nerey have plans to do more, as well. They are seeking at least three vans, even if they’re not running, to be fixed up and used for transporting teens on outings and other needs. Vans donated by the community will be tax deductible. They want more volunteers to give their time to work with the youth. They hope the boxing gear will be donated, as well.
“There’s room enough now that we have the attention of Pastor Les,” Nerey said.
To contact Williams or Nerey, call 355-6775 or send an e-mail to email@example.com or info@savingalifetogether.