Homeboy Industries is a nonprofit organization that gives former gang members an opportunity to redirect their lives in a more positive direction. The program was created by Father Gregory Boyle and was originally called “Jobs For a Future” (JFF). The goal was to stay true to their motto “nothing stops a bullet like a job” and give misdirected individuals, who typically could not find a job anywhere else the opportunity, to work in a bakery. Soon after, JFF morphed into Homeboy Industries.
The program has had an important impact on the Los Angeles gang problem, with young people from more than half of the region’s 1,100 known gangs seeking a way out through Homeboy. Gang affiliations are left outside the doors as these young people work together, side by side, learning the mutual respect that comes from shared tasks and challenges.
“All of the programs that we offer are completely free. We have Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous classes, and we also have classes for victims of domestic violence. We really see ourselves as a therapeutic community,” said Norma Gillette, who has been the executive assistant to Homeboy Industries for more than 14 years. “We even have a high school on site which has 70 students enrolled. Students can choose to come to classes all day for eight hours, or follow the independent study format where they can pick up assignments and do them on their own.”
The high school is accredited, and after completion of coursework students receive a diploma.
In addition to providing job training and placement assistance and other free programs, a distinctive feature of Homeboy Industries continues to be its small businesses, where the most difficult-to-place individuals are hired in transitional jobs, thus giving them a safe, supportive environment in which to learn both concrete and soft job skills, while simultaneously building their resume and work experience.
Homeboy’s businesses now include the Homeboy Bakery, newly re-opened in the new headquarters in downtown Los Angeles; Homeboy Silkscreen, which prints logos on apparel and provides embroidery services; Homeboy Maintenance, which provides landscaping and maintenance services; Homeboy Merchandise, which sells T-shirts, mugs, tote bags, and mouse pads with the Homeboy logo. These items are also now sold through a retail storefront in the new headquarters, as well as through online ordering.
Homegirl Café, located in the newly expanded headquarters building has 86 seats, and also includes a dedicated catering kitchen providing a training ground in all aspects of the restaurant and food service industry.
“Homeboy Industries has a lot of projects going on right now, specifically the Homegirl Café; its products have just hit the market and are being sold at Ralph’s,” said Gillette “We are also opening a general store in city hall this spring, and Homeboy Bakery already participates in 12 farmer’s markets in Los Angeles County.”
One event that members of Homeboy Industries is preparing for is running the Los Angeles Marathon. The program has participated in the marathon for the last few years, and each time all registrants completed the course including one member in a wheelchair.
“Most of our funding is in the form of grants from different foundations and that helps us tremendously, but having enough money can sometimes be a challenge, which I’m sure is the case for many non-profit organizations right now,” said Gillette. “But our biggest accomplishment is that we provide hope for a lot of people. Those who had lost hope, those whose lives were controlled by gangs and drugs, we give them hope, and we see a lot of successes.”
For more information on Homeboy Industries, its businesses and to donate, visit the organization online at www.homeboy-industries.org.