Monday, April 23, 2012

Cultivating Hope & Compassion at Homeboy Industries

First, a brief introduction (sans notes and hyperlinks) to Homeboy Industries from the Wikipedia entry, followed by a piece from Jim Newton in today's Times:

“Homeboy Industries is a youth program founded in 1992 by Father Greg Boyle, S.J. following the work of the Christian base communities at Dolores Mission Church. The program is intended to assist at-risk youth and gang members with a variety of services, such as counseling, tutoring, and employment. The most distinctive feature of Homeboy Industries is its small businesses, which gives hard-to-place individuals an opportunity to be employed in transitional jobs in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn both concrete and soft job skills. Among the businesses are the Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Café & Catering, Homeboy Merchandise, Homeboy Farmers Markets, The Homeboy Diner at City Hall , and Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery.


Homeboy Industries began in 1988 as a job training program (called Jobs for a Future) out of Dolores Mission Parish in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California. It was created by then-pastor Greg Boyle, S.J. to offer an alternative to gang life for high-risk youth, who were living in the area with the highest concentration of gang activity in the country. In those early days, Boyle found sympathetic businesses that agreed to hire recovering gang members.

In 1992, an abandoned warehouse was converted into the first business, Homeboy Bakery, to create more opportunities for employment. The Bakery started off producing tortillas and eventually received a contract for baking bread. Eventually more businesses were added, and in 2001, Homeboy Industries became an independent non-profit.

Dolores Mission Alternative School was created to offer high school drop outs a chance for a diploma. In 2010, Learning Works became the new high school. There are currently 75 students enrolled, and in 2012 enrollment is expected to reach 105. In October 2007, Homeboy Industries opened a new $8.5 million headquarters at the Fran and Ray Stark building, in a gang-neutral downtown location.

In addition to jobs, Homeboy Industries offers training in anger management, domestic violence, yoga, spiritual development, parenting, substance abuse, budgeting, art and other areas of self-development. In addition, they offer free mental health counseling, tattoo removal, legal services, job development and case management.

One of Homeboy’s most successful programs is free tattoo removal. Young people who find that tattoos inhibit their ability to secure employment can receive treatments on site at Homeboy’s center in Downtown Los Angeles. Though tattoo removal by laser is known to be painful and takes an average of eight to ten treatments per tattoo, and in some cases up to 1 year to complete, patient retention is virtually 100%. The clinic completes about 560 treatments per month.

Homeboy Industries faced financial difficulties in 2010, but the organization has reached a strong point in 2011 and is seeing more clients than ever before. New developments in 2010 and 2011 included the launch of Homeboy Tortilla Strips and Salsa in Ralphs stores across California, and the expansion of the Homeboy social enterprises with the Homeboy Diner at City Hall and Homeboy Farmers Markets. The title of Fr. Boyle’s memoir, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion reflects Father Boyle’s unwavering focus in helping gang members walk a new path.

Homeboy currently employs between 200–235 high-risk, formerly gang-involved, and recently incarcerated youth in its six social enterprises and headquarters, though the free services (from tattoo removal to Baby and Me class) are utilized by more than 10,000 community members a year.”

And, now, from Jim Newton’s article, “Nurturing Hope at Homeboy Industries,” in today’s Los Angeles Times (April 23, 2012):
“Imagine Los Angeles without Homeboy Industries. Imagine that the 350 or so men and women who work at Homeboy’s various operations instead had no help finding jobs. Imagine that the 500 or so young people in the pipeline for work at Homeboy were suddenly deprived of that chance for gainful employment, security, support and stability. Imagine that the thousands of young men and women who every year have tattoos removed at Homeboy instead showed up for job interviews with necks and arms and shoulders boasting of a life they'd prefer to put behind them.
What cost would this city pay? How many of those young people would commit new crimes? Surely there would be scores more drive-bys, hundreds more assaults, many more dead and wounded. The county jails and state prisons, already full to overflowing, would be more packed. More children would grow up with parents missing or dead and all too likely to repeat generational patterns.
Life without Homeboy would be bleaker, meaner and more expensive in a society already too bleak, too mean and strapped for cash. And yet, Homeboy was almost finished a couple of years ago. Its founder, Father Gregory Boyle, had launched the organization’s expansion at its new facility on the edge of Chinatown, and Homeboy was inundated with applications and requests for help. Then the economic downturn squeezed benefactors and support fell as demand grew.
‘We just weren’t prepared,’ Boyle explained recently. For a moment, it looked as though Homeboy might close. But a vigorous response from some of Los Angeles’ leading business figures helped rescue Homeboy and place it back on a path to solvency and service. (Among the most important participants was home-builder Bruce Karatz, who had reason to want to restore his reputation after he was indicted — and later convicted — for back-dating stock options). Today, Homeboy raises about a third of its annual budget from its restaurant and from other sales, with philanthropy covering most of the rest of its $14-million annual budget.
That was Homeboy’s closest brush with insolvency, but the organization and its founder had weathered excruciating times before and are likely to again. Boyle refers to the years from 1988 to 1998 as the ‘decade of death,’ when gang violence tore through the city and county. In those days, Homebody was sometimes vilified for offering help to those many saw as dangerous and undeserving. Boyle never flinched.
Homeboy now has become a fixture of the city, and its founder an admired icon. As we talked the other day, tours at Homeboy shuffled outside Boyle’s glass-walled office. ‘Viewing the founder in his natural habitat,’ he said, his smile as warm as ever. In the 20 or so years I’ve known Boyle, he’s grown a little rounder and a little grayer (who hasn’t?), but that smile survives.” [….] The rest of the article is here.

See too Father Boyle’s book, Tatoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (New York: Free Press, 2010), and Celeste Fremon’s G-Dog and the Homeboys: Father Greg Boyle and the Gangs of East Los Angeles (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2008 ed.)

The Homeboy Industries website


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