Moving to Salinas ten years ago, Rev. Ken Feske found himself in a community that was experiencing rising crime and violence, increase in destructive gang activity and an escalating sense of fear and hopelessness. He vowed to make a change and soon emerged as Chair of the Community Education and Awareness Committee of the Violent Injury Prevention Coalition. In that role he worked tirelessly building bridges, establishing networks, identifying concerns and connecting them to solutions. He has used his leadership and service, to make it possible for thousands of young people and adults to have hope in their lives.
Rev. Feske is best known for his leadership in reducing the city’s juvenile crime. It begin in 1994 when Rev. Feske initiated, organized, and inspired a community-wide effort that now includes three school districts, 23 schools, 180 businesses, 20 religious congregations, 31 service clubs, and more than 22,000 students in a program that has effectively reduced crime by giving young people the skills to bring peace and hope to their peers.
In 1998, Rev. Feske challenged another group of people to connect business leaders with classroom students. Through Rev. Feske’s leadership, 713 volunteers, under the banner Salinas Reads, were mobilized to read in 780 classrooms with 14,883 students.
Another community initiative Rev. Feske spearheaded was the first City Youth Summit, which called together more than 300 high school students to share their visions and their needs. The Youth Summit was completely youth led, with the students building and carrying out their own agenda. Every high school in the city was involved, including ethnically, academically and socially diverse delegations from the four public schools, two private schools, an alternative school and the local juvenile rehabilitation unit. It was Rev. Feske’s insight and determination that made the gathering possible.
In addition to his volunteer efforts, Rev. Feske is the Pastor of First Baptist Church that has a congregation of 300 members. Six years ago, his congregation, in response to community unrest over another group’s Nativity scene on public property, took it upon themselves to “recreate” Bethlehem on its church parking lot. Now, nearly 40,000 persons travel to the “Streets of Bethlehem” in a unique, diverse celebration of this religious holiday.
Rev. Feske has also been key in the development of a volunteer-led shelter for homeless men in the City of Salinas. What began with seven men spending the night at First Baptist Church, has become a program sheltering, feeding, and finding jobs for a much larger group of men, assisted by more than 30 churches and synagogues and their volunteers.
Rev. Feske has initiated programs such as Salinas Reads, I-HELP, PeaceBuilders, “Streets of Bethlehem”, “Cultivating Peace in Salinas: A Framework for Violence Prevention” and the Salinas Youth Leadership Institute. He has also called on the City Council to pass a strict trigger-lock policy. Rev. Feske has been joined by a myriad of caring and committed persons in his fight for improvement, but he has often been the motivator and initiator.