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Homeboy Industries: A Year Later

Jerry Ting |
November 29, 2011 | 5:07 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Arleen Ayala, 29, from Boyle Heights works at Homegirl Cafe in Downtown Los Angeles after past gang involvement. (Photo by Jerry Ting)
Arleen Ayala, 29, from Boyle Heights works at Homegirl Cafe in Downtown Los Angeles after past gang involvement. (Photo by Jerry Ting)
Homeboy Industries continues to help change lives of ex-gang members after receiving strong support from a wide variety of donors when the agency was forced to lay off most of its employees last May. 

For more than 20 years, Father Greg Boyle, also known as “Father G," has been leading the social entrepreneurial effort. Homeboy Industries focuses on rehabilitating past gangs members and criminals by hiring them for jobs in bakeries, cafes, and by helping them with educational and training programs. Homeboy helps them develop a new direction in their lives. 

“Our target is those who consider themselves previous gang members. They may also be impacted, at high risk of gang involvement,” said Mona Hobson, Director of Development, “We’ve experienced a four fold increase for a demand in services in a four year period.” 

Last May, however, Homeboy released 300 of its employees, including many of its senior administrators. Father Boyle himself forfeited his salary. At the time, Homeboy faced a $5 million deficit in its budget. 

Since, however, the agency has actually been growing in its services after receiving donations and governmental contracts. The number of clients Homeboy serves in 2007 was 3,000 people per year. 

Today, that number has increased to over 12,000 people per year, all of whom are struggling to find jobs. Homeboy also hired back 235 employees. 

Previous gangsters and criminals work from a variety of different outlets. Some work as waitresses and hostesses at Homegirl Café, a quaint contemporary restaurant serving both American and Mexican food on Bruno Street by Chinatown. Others work from the administrative offices next door to the Café. 

Homeboy also sends out employees to sell their baked goods from farmer markets around the city, from Santa Monica, to USC, to South Pasadena.

Recently released from jail, 31-year-old ex-gangster Mario Mcdonald who works at farmer markets for Homeboy said, “Homeboy is getting bigger and bigger because Father G does what he practices and everyone want to do good for him. When you look at him, you don't want to let him down.”

Help for Father G has come from many different sources, including private donors, a unique partnership with Ralph’s Grocery Stores, and governmental funding. 

Last August, Homeboy Industries received a $100,000 grant from Chevron. In January, Ralph’s Grocery Stores agreed to sell Homeboy Industries tortilla chips and salsas, one of the main sources of revenue for the agency. The chips and salsa are homemade by those employed by Homeboy. 

The nonprofit also secured government funding at the county, state, and federal level. Public funding currently finances 10-12% of Homeboy’s budget $8.9 million budget. 

“I’m optimistic. I certainly hope that people will continue because of the good work that we’re doing. We’re making a difference,” said Hobson. 

The agency helps hardened gang members turn away from crime and find employment at the bakery and café; however, Homeboy also offers a wealth of rehabilitation programs. 

Homeboy provides employment counseling, tattoo removal, legal counseling, and employment opportunities. Homeboy also offers a training and certificate program for Solar Panel installation partnership with the East LA Skills Center. Graduates of the program receive a nationally-recognized license to work in the field and are helped in finding employment. 

A menu served at Downtown's Homegirl Cafe. (Photo by Jerry Ting)
A menu served at Downtown's Homegirl Cafe. (Photo by Jerry Ting)
These programs used by clients like Mcdonald are actually still growing in the face of the national financial crisis due to the internal efforts of Homeboy Industries. 

"I’m using the tattoo removal service. I’m getting some of my tattoos removed, some of my unwanted tattoos from my past life with gangs,” said Mcdonald, “I’m really trying to find out what I really want to do with my life.”


“We have a variety of programs which have grown organically to meet the needs that present itself. For example, our mental health program against substance abuse has grown from a very limited program to a full robust program,” said Hobson. 

The growth of the programs is necessary, as more and more recently released prisoners are struggling to find employment. People previously convicted of felonies find it extremely difficult to find jobs, especially in the economic climate of Los Angeles County. Even with recent advances, Homeboy is still unable to help all those who need employment. 

“It’s always challenging because the needs always outstrips the money available. We are engaged in increasing the revenue of our businesses, we’ve added to our business, we’re continuing to try and raise money,” said Hobson. 

Hobson encourages those who wish to help Homeboy to contribute online, or simply buy Homeboy goods from Ralph’s, farmers markets, and some Food For Less stores. She also recommends visiting Homegirl café in downtown Los Angeles. 

“We’re trying to do everything we can so that Homeboy stays financially stable,” said Hobson. 

Nearly half a year since releasing most of its employees, Homeboy Industries is striving to develop and continue to live by its mission statement, “Nothing Stops A Bullet Like A Job.” 

Reach reporter Jerry here.

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