FRESNO, Calif. - A man who lost his son and daughter to gang violence, turns his grief into action. Aaron Foster is helping gang members transform from criminals into hard working citizens.
One son brutally gunned down. Four years later, a daughter killed in drive-by shooting. Aaron Foster III was 21. Kayla Foster was only 18. But their tragic deaths sparked rebirth for so many others.
What makes a father's love so unique? Is it his way of showing affection? Or how he adores his children?
"So they was like, here's one heartbeat and here's two heartbeats," said Aaron Foster.
Kobe and Kayla Foster were born 18 years ago. Fraternal twins, linked by an inseparable bond.
Foster, a father of eleven was raised in Compton. Once an active gang member, his first born Sonny followed in his dad's footsteps. On May 25, 2013, outside a Southwest Fresno gas station a rival fatally shot Sonny in the head multiple times.
"He was six-five but every time I saw him, I saw the little baby that I held in my arms when he came out of his mom," said Foster.
Four years later, tragedy struck again. Kayla Foster was on South Bardell Avenue with her friends on the morning of Memorial Day when police say gang members opened fire in a drive-by, killing the 18-year-old just ten days before she would have graduated high school.
"And then showing up to the same mortuary and sitting in the same room, waiting for your daughter to get pushed out of the freezer so it was like deja vu but with a different person," said Foster.
For the second time, Foster had to bury his child.
"That's going to traumatize me forever. Man, this world is brutal," said Foster.
"We are collectively calling for a gang truce in the City of Fresno. They're out there wreaking havoc on our city," said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer back on June 30, 2017.
A month after Kayla Foster's murder , community leaders and police united to stop gang violence. Foster says real job opportunities were the keys to rehabilitating criminals.
"They never had jobs. Not those kind of jobs. If they did work, it was from prison," said Foster.
So Foster reached out to City Councilman Oliver Baines who founded Valley Apprenticeship Connections, a program preparing people in poverty for careers in construction.
"Most, if not all of those jobs will have some type of benefit package that accompanies them and we wanted to make sure that them and their families could have better lifestyles," said Baines.
Baines asked Foster to recruit 13 gang members who were hungry to earn an honest living. The plan known as "Project Truce" became a reality. For eight weeks, the group learned to be on time, communicate and resolve conflicts. Soft skills needed to succeed in the work force. Handling aggression in the weight room and training for the grind of physical labor. A fresh start for 24-year-old Robert Brewer. Brewer says he joined a gang at 13.
"I didn't really have nobody to look up to so I started looking up to the people that I was surrounding myself with," said Brewer.
At age 15, police arrested Brewer for armed robbery. He would be sent to prison and released five years later. Brewer says he couldn't change his ways.
"Yeah, I shot somebody," said Brewer.
Back behind bars for three more years, Brewer says he finally woke up before getting out in January. Now he prepares to be a father to a baby girl.
"I'm doing whatever I can to make sure she lives righteous," said Brewer.
At the University of Iron, one voice stands out. James Gay AKA 'Cowboy' is coaching the Central Valley's next wave of iron workers, introducing former gang members to one of the toughest trades.
For iron workers, an apprenticeship lasts four years. Wages start at 18 bucks an hour. Experienced workers or "journeymen" can make up to 36 dollars an hour. But the labor is demanding.
"A building to me is a playground and at the end of it, it's a finished product that everybody else says 'wow that's so beautiful' but then when they see what we do, they're like 'man, I wouldn't do that,'" said Gay.
And employers say they're on the hunt. Actively searching for ex-con turned laborers who can help complete the California High Speed Rail.
Our crew followed the Foster and the members of Project Truce for their most critical test at the Laborers Training Facility in San Ramon. A grueling obstacle course of heavy construction work. Timed at three separate stations, efficiency and safety are crucial. The goal is to finish each task correctly in seven minutes or less. A passing grade makes you eligible to join the laborers union, connects to you to contractors and allows you to work across the state. Career opportunities on the line.
Each member passed the test and will return to the Valley, ready to provide for their families legally. Brewer says Project Truce has changed his life.
"If you can make one good choice, you can make a million," said Brewer.
For Foster, this program is his rebirth. A way to change Fresno for the better. An opportunity he wishes Sonny had. A cause he knows Kayla stood for. A father's love, galvanizing his community.
"I hope that they just didn't die to spill blood in the street. That's my biggest fear and the only way that I can do anything for them is through this," said Foster.
Foster says 60 people are on the wait list to be apart of Project Truce. As for Robert Brewer, he says he's already been hired as an iron workers apprentice.