FAIRFIELD — Larry Bluford and Ryan Garrett spent a lot of time on the streets.
Street life and its negative accouterments landed them both in prison – and put Bluford, 40, on Solano County’s Most Wanted list in 1996.
When released, both ended up back on the streets, but this time for an entirely different reason.
Bluford followed a vision he’d had in prison, of helping at-risk youths. That vision led to the founding of Operation THUGS in 2005 and expanding its helping hands to not just youths but to anyone who needs it.
“I couldn’t find it in me to not help someone out because they didn’t meet my vision,” Bluford said. “We just started helping people. It became more of a community ministry.”
The nonprofit organization will be honored Friday at the NorthBay Healthcare Conference Center during the American Red Cross Solano County Heroes Breakfast. It will be named the Community Service Hero in the organization category.
Winning accolades for doing something in both men’s hearts was never on the radar. In fact, Bluford thought someone was pulling his leg.
“I was blown away,” he said. “I actually thought it was a joke.
“This all started from a prison cell, so to be recognized by the Red Cross . . . it’s pretty amazing from where we started to (now) being acknowledged. It really blew me away.”
Sometime after Bluford was released from Folsom State Prison – his prison stay also included a time in San Quentin – he told Garrett, 32, about his vision. They knew each other from the “street lifestyle of their youth,” Garrett said. Both used and sold drugs on Fairfield streets and attended Fairfield High School at different times. Garrett said he liked the idea, but the name, he said, “was a little edgy and (I) wasn’t sure how the community would react to it.”
The reaction to the THUGS moniker, which stands for The Harvest Unit Gathering Souls, was not surprising to Bluford, who said he got some negative feedback about the name.
“On the outset when you hear the name, it sounds so negative and anti-church,” he said. “When I introduced it, people were looking at me with raised eyebrows.”
He’s since won them over, including Garrett, who partnered with Bluford to start the organization.
“I felt it was something I needed to get involved with,” Garrett said.
The core group today is about 22 strong. They help those in need throughout Fairfield, Suisun City and Vacaville. They’ve had other areas contact them, interested in forming Operation THUGS chapters as well.
The regular ministries they call Rescue Missions in various parts of town put on events, do an annual holiday toy drive, help the homeless and feed the hungry. They also do the smaller things to help others as well.
“We help people move. We change tires. We do basically anything we can to help people,” he said. “We took ourselves out of the box by helping at-risk (kids) and just wanted to help where help was needed.”
For more information on Operation THUGS, go to www.operationthugs.com.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.