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Thursday, November 10, 2011

'Tis better to give than to get cavities

The Homeboy lobby was suddenly full of pirates, vampires, and ladybugs. A bumblebee plopped down on the floor of the development office and started to read a book. The clown almost cried, comforted by a milky way.

Tattoo removal greeted an alien, the bakery handed cookies to a chubby viking, and the mental health department led a procession of small bodies throughout the building, inexplicably singing.

Okay, it wasn't a regular day at Homeboy- it was Halloween!

Baby & Me class is an important piece of the community here, and it's hard to overstate how much an hour a week can mean to our families. The class is often a home of "firsts;" the first time a mom learns about the importance of "tummy time," the first time a father is out of jail for his childrens' Halloween.

For one father who grew up in an abusive home, last week was the first time he had ever carved a pumpkin.



Trick or treating around the building put big smiles on the little ones, but Baby & Me is also about the "me"-- for our homies, a chance to participate in a childhood tradition that so many of them missed out on was just as magical. To give to the ladybugs, vampires and clowns was the best kind of treat.


Friday, October 28, 2011

The Definition of Family

Jose (center) at this year's Lo Maximo

Every morning before we start work, someone gives the "thought of the day." Jose Rodriguez had the thought today, his last day of work at Homeboy Industries before starting at Project 180 next week as a case manager.

Months ago, before Jose was interviewing for his new job, he sat down and told us his story. This is it.

"I was born and raised in South Central with no father, I never met him, and my mom was very abusive. Every time she had a man, a boyfriend, she would drop me off with relatives. I never had a good relationship with my mom. My room was always a small closet.

I started being booked and released at age 9 for assault, breaking and entering, vandalism. I was first in Juvenile Hall at age 11. Juvenile Hall was better than home: I had three meals a day and it gave me a break from my mom. It gave me a break from the abuse. She would use an extension cord. Sometimes I wore three shirts to school so no one could see the blood and scars that I had on my back.

My first use of drugs was at age 8 when I tried alcohol. It progressed to sniffing paint and glue and then crack, pcp and heroin. When I was actually jumped into a gang at age 12 it was nothing compared to the abuse I got from my mom.

I was homeless because no one wanted me around. I went from friend's house to friend's house. Incarceration was okay, it was a roof over my head. I had two daughters. I went to jail and when I came out I went deeper and deeper into my drug use. My family was homeless as a result of my drug use. My fiance left me, she could not continue to see me getting high and have me around my daughters. Nothing was more important to me than getting high.

I ended up living on skid row in downtown Los Angeles, behind a dumpster. I was on the street for two years, during which time I did not see my kids.

Five years ago, I went to my first NA meeting. My life has been good because of the choice of getting clean. I was invited to speak at an NA meeting at Homeboy. When I walked in, I saw many guys that I had done time with, got loaded with and gang banged against.

Homeboy was a place that welcomed me. I could not find work or a job and I stayed around Homeboy, coming to all the classes: parenting, anger management, and substance abuse. Someone asked me if I wanted a job, and I said yes. We went to talk to Father Greg. I didn't want to talk to Father Greg; I was resistant to meet him because of what he gives people, true love. G is too nice and I was not sure how to receive him.

G said 'my son, where have you been all my life?' the power of this moment made me feel like I was home. That is as real as it gets. He asked me if I wanted to work for him and be part of his family. I knew that I wanted to be at Homeboy and have been here ever since that moment.

Homeboy is my family, and it has taught me what a family should be. I've become a friend, a father to my daughters, and a role model because other people here have taught me how to be these things. My ultimate goal or something I would like to do is to be a case manager because I can help people. I want to show people in need that if I can do it, they can do it."

Today, Jose says he's learned that change takes real "action"- by working on himself, his fears, and his discomfort with letting people in, he began to change. From his friends at Homeboy, he learned how to be a good father. From his former enemies, he learned friendship. "I never thought that I would carry the casket of someone who used to be my enemy at his funeral."From the homies that passed while he was working here, he learned laughter and loss. Today, Jose says, he's learned that "it's not what you've got, but what you've got to give." Jose closed by sharing the definition of family that he looked up in the dictionary: "a person having kinship with another or others." Jose will always be our family, and we wish him more than luck!

Jose on his last day of work with one of his heroes, Dolores Huerta

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Becoming a father

The following is written by one of our Homeboys, Armando, who is an assistant to the development department and facilitator of the "becoming fathers" class. A word of caution: some strong language and heavy content.

My name is Armando Ruiz. Like most homeboys I come from a dysfunctional family. My mother was a drug lover and my dad died when I was 6 years old from an overdose. I have 4 sister & 3 brothers. I’m the oldest son outta 8. When I was 7 years old we where taken away from my mom because she had a substance abuse problem. In that first year of foster care my siblings and I went to 8 foster homes. After that year we landed in my last foster home.

I was raised different than people think a kid should be raised. At the age of 8 I was told to stand in front of the Bronx Zoo and sell one dollar balloons. I worked an 8-10 hour day for the most part $25 a day. Life for me was different. I was also called names for my skin color. Im a brown boy living in a white house. They called me black monkey. I was raised feeling like shit because I was not white like the family in the house.

I ran away from that house many times during my teen years. I thought I could raise myself. Unfortunately I was too young in the eyes of the state. (New York State). Life during these years was hard for me. Everyday I was told to fight for the family, the same family which called me racial slurs. I was filled with so much anger I saw each fight as a chance to gain the family’s love and approval, which never happened.

During my high school years I hated the world. I was in a gang in school. I felt if the house would not love me, so the hood, homies would respect me and fear me. I always saw drug money as my way out of the hood. However that’s not what happened. The house told me I had to work for my money. They did not want to buy me any clothes. So I became a drug dealer to buy things I needed.

Life was unlike what I thought it should be. Life was not something that I enjoyed. It was something I thought god gave us to discipline us. During the few years after high school I became a drug user and alcoholic. I could not go one day without a substance in my body. Life was not fun. It was pain.

Two years I got hit by a car. I was put into a coma for a month and now have metal in my leg from my knee to a few inches above my ankle. I got hit during one of my drunken nights out. During my stay in the hospital I cried and wept for what my life have become. I asked god to help me and to grant me a kid. I told him I need a kid and I would be different than my parents. One year later I was blessed with a son, who I named Elijah Armando Ruiz.

Homeboy Industries is helping me become the father I want to become. I started working at Homeboy when my son was one month old. During that time I felt the need for a job and was in a tight spot. I thought about gang banging and dealing drugs but I would remember that night I cried in the hospital and asked god for my son.

I want my son to never go through what I when through in life. I want my son to become whatever he wants to become. I do want him to become a college grad. I want his work history to start after college, not during his elementary school years. I want him to know that his dad loves him no matter what color he is. I will always love him. I want so much for my son. I want my son simply to be happy, drug and alcohol free.classes I enrolled in at Homeboy was Baby & Me. I felt I needed the class to help me learn how to handle a kid. I then enrolled in the parenting class, simply because it was a parenting class. I did not have a parent to teach me how to do so. The classes here have helped me become a father on the path to becoming an important part of his kids life.


Armando and his son, Elijah

Now through Homeboy I teach a class called Becoming Fathers. The reason I started this class is because I saw a need for a class which will help homies like me who want to change from being just a baby daddy to a real father. I'm not saying I know it all. I feel it is hard for me (a person that really wants to change) and maybe its harder for other homies. I feel I can help other homies make that change in their life. Most homies come from fatherless homes and they don’t want their home to be like that. Fatherless kids find support in the streets doing unlawful things.

Homeboy Industries has helped me more then I can say. I don’t know what else to say. Thank you Father G (G DOGG) and Homeboy Industries.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer and family



It's difficult to understand what it takes to leave a gang. Deciding to walk away from a lifestyle that leads only to violence should be easy, we think, but we may forget that this also means leaving the friends, family, even the neighborhood that you've always known. Herein lies what may be the hardest task facing those who come to Homeboy Industries: divorcing themselves from the people and places that have, until now, been home.

This fundamental shift, "having to throw out the phonebook," as one homegirl put it, is why the community of kinship at Homeboy is so important. Many of our employees spend time together on the weekends, or bring their kids to the events that work makes available (we're always thrilled when baseball tickets show up) because it's simply not safe for them to be around their old friends or family. For other homies, free time consists of not leaving the house all too much.

Last Friday, Homeboy held our 9th annual family picnic- a frenetic, happy day in the park right behind Dodger Stadium. It was a few hours for our employees to have a real gathering, a safe congregation of young people and their children, a snapshot of rest and fun in the steady, slow work toward a better life.











Thursday, June 9, 2011

Homeboy Diner at LA City Hall: a new business for second chances





Today was one of celebration at Homeboy; after many months of wrangling permits, testing espresso machines, and perfecting pizza at lunchtime in the bakery, we opened the Homeboy Diner at City Hall with a bang. Well, perhaps not a bang, but a loaf of bread.


The Homeboy Diner is only a closet-sized, bright green lunchtime spot, but to us it represents much more: the continuing growth and stability of an organization that seeks to provide hope to those for whom hope is foreign, and the opportunity for formerly gang-involved young people to show the world (or at least the mayor's office staff) that true change comes one day at a time, starting with a job.

Check out excerpts from the press conference, featuring our "homies" Kyle and Jennifer, Father Greg, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Jesse Bonderman of the Cornerstone Project. Happy dining!
video

Monday, May 23, 2011

Till the wheels fall off

This is a post about the LA Marathon. This is a post about a lot more than the LA Marathon. Father Greg likes to say, “till the wheels fall off.” Almost exactly this time last year, the wheels of Homeboy Industries fell off. With the economy sighing in desperation, foundation funding began to slowly retreat, government funds we were promised never quite showed up and… we kept hiring. The budget reached a point of crisis, and in late May 2010, all 330 employees in our headquarters were told that they were no longer employed. Here’s the amazing part. The next day, everyone showed up for work.

A year later so much has changed. Responding to the news of Homeboy’s stumble, the Los Angeles community (and far beyond) rallied to keep us going, and we were gently lifted up by the generosity of so many who know what important work goes on here. Homeboy Industries is now financially stable (though our needs for funding, like the needs of our clients, are always growing!), and we have more and more exciting developments to celebrate and look forward to. The Homeboy Bakery is now in Farmers’ Markets across Los Angeles, the Homegirl Café will be opening a new Homeboy Diner in City Hall and another at LAX, Homeboy chips & salsa are in more than 250 Ralphs stores in Southern California, and our clients continue to make incredible, meaningful progress at Homeboy and beyond.

Our chips and salsa, courtesy of the Food Librarian


In March, a team of homies were slated to run the LA Marathon, a tradition we’ve had for several years. It’s a way for our young clients to expend a little positive energy on the streets. Every homie I asked about it simply said “I wanted to accomplish something,” or “I’ve never finished anything in my life- I wanted to finish something I could be proud of.” One member of the Homeboy community is Alex, who was not a gang member but was hit in the head by a stray bullet in early adolescence and has been in a wheelchair ever since. Alex wanted to be a part of the marathon team, too, and the runners planned to take shifts pushing him throughout the 26.2 miles- Alex was to walk the last 200 yards in honor of the friends we have lost this year.


The Team

The day of the marathon, it poured. Not Los Angeles fog-sprinkling, but sheets of cold water slapping against sidewalk. Our Homeboys started the race anyway, covered in plastic bags. A few miles in, one of Alex’s wheels started to wear down. At seven miles, the rubber casing flew off. The Homeboys continued, riding on rim. The spokes crumpled, they straightened them- fifteen times. Eventually, the chair gave out- the wheel fell off. Our job developer James, who stayed behind with Alex instead of finishing the race, is not deterred- “Next year we’re gonna get a better chair,” he said, “and kick some serious butt.”


The little wheel that could

“It’s not over!”

All of this speaks to something profound about Homeboy Industries; from the ashes, this place finds success. From violence, abuse, addiction: hope. The wheels fall off, but we keep going.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Time to leave the nest

Rosa is 20 years old. This week, she started working the factory line at a fiberglass company in the city of Commerce, along with two other Homeboy Industries' trainees. Rosa talked to Homeboy Stories on her last day here, and the following are all her words.



“I’m excited that I’m starting this but then again I’m sad I’m leaving Homeboy, this is my passion right here. I’ve been here almost three years; I guess it’s time to leave the nest.

I want to be able to prove that I can work somewhere. Maybe this is a test- I want to prove that I’m ready, I want to make everyone here proud.

I’ve known G since I was 12, when I was in Juvenile Hall. I grew up around the gang lifestyle, everyone else was doing it, I didn’t really know anything else that I could do. I started in middle school, at 11, went to Juvenile hall when I was 12, jumped into a gang at 13. What made me leave everything behind was my son- if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have changed my perspective about life and gang banging.

In the hospital giving birth, there’s doctors there’s family, you hardly get a moment alone. But when that moment of truth came when it was me and my son; when they rolled that little crib in I turned around and I stared at him and I thought.. that’s my son. I knew then, I felt this overpowering feeling come upon me and I knew I was a mother. I knew that I didn’t want my son to gang bang, I didn’t want him to be exposed to any of that.

During my pregnancy I started looking for a job. I went to more than 200 places- we’d leave at 7 in the morning and walk all day applying for jobs with no money in our pockets. Finally I came to G. You don’t have to beat around the bush with G, I just said ‘I’m pregnant, I need a job. I want to provide for my son.’

As soon as I got here no one judged me, no one cared where I was from. I learned responsibility, how to give up my attitude from the past, the vocabulary of being in a professional place. I’m excited because really, I’ve never had a job that makes good money. I told G the other day that it was an honor to have worked by his side, and I mean that with deepest sincerity that has ever existed in my heart. He replied ‘No, it was my honor.’”

Rosa hopes to return to school someday and get her Master's in Sociology. If you or your business would like to add a homie to your team, contact our job development department at jobdevelopment@homeboy-industries.org

Friday, May 13, 2011

Smash it up, Homegirl!

On Thursday afternoons in South Pasadena, a crowd will gather at the edge of the farmer's market. Shaded under a wide white tent, you'll find a spread of treats (and stories, if you ask!) from Homeboy Bakery....



And the Homegirl Café



(don't worry, they get along!)



If you're hungry for more than cookies, bread and juice, you can experience the fun of Homegirls from the café "smashing it up!"



Alright, hold on. Smashing what up? Each other!?

Never fear- just fruits and veggies!




Here's how it works. You choose either veggie or fruit, and a Homegirl will ask you what you want in your Smash it Up- anything from hot peppers, edamame, and fresh beets in the vegetable cocktail, or aloe vera, mango, and fresh berries in the fruit cocktail (there's a ton to choose from, all seasonally appropriate).



Then, your Homegirl (Ivy is guiding us through this fruit demonstration) puts it all in a cocktail shaker...



And smashes it up!



When it's all smashed and shaken (with a little sweet syrup for the fruit cocktail, or salad dressing on your veggies) you have an exquisitely healthy and delicious concoction.



Homegirls take part in the farmer's market as part of their one-year training certificate program through the Homegirl Café, where high-risk and gang-involved women are given a chance to learn and grow, mastering culinary arts skills from gardening to restaurant management.

The Homegirl Café is now in the USC Farmers Market on Tuesdays, the West LA Kaiser and South Bay Kaiser markets on Wednesdays, the South Pasadena market on Thursdays, and the Malibu market on Sundays!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Link roundup- and ask us a question!

We've gotten a lot of love on the internet this week! Check out some great blog posts, including OneSkater's great tale of some Homeboys who went on a horsey adventure (click here), the story of one art class we do in conjunction with Otis College (here), and LA County Supervisor Yev Yaroslavsky's post on Homeboy's successes (here)


And for some reader fun: ask Homeboy Industries something you've always wanted to know about what we do here, or the lives of the Homeboys and Homegirls who are working to be a positive influence in their community! Click here to ask us anonymously, and a Homeboy or Homegirl will answer the most interesting questions in a video post soon!

Generosity

a conversation in the lunch room

Homeboy Industries exists thanks to the compassion and willingness to give of thousands of individuals, as well as foundations, corporations, and some government money every year. The Homeboys and Homegirls who come here to work and grow may not have the resources to be financially philanthropic, but they are amazingly generous with their stories and feelings, and will share with little prompting.

During my first week here, someone warned me that if you ask a Homeboy how they're doing, you'd better be willing to stick around for several minutes. This enthusiasm to share may exist because most Homeboys weren't afforded much of a childhood, and didn't pick up on the concept of polite small talk during the years when they were locked up, and also because they're so genuinely excited to share their progress in a place they are gushingly grateful to be a part of.

In the lunchroom one day, I noticed that one of our new hires, Arthur, had a broken hand, and inquired what had happened.

"Oh," he said, "I was fighting..."

"Not a great idea, huh?"

"Nah... See, I'm working on my anger, ya know? G gave me this really good book to read on anger management so I'm trying to learn all the techniques and stuff. It's hard, man!"

I commiserated, adding that sometimes I felt my blood pressure rising in LA traffic.

Ten minutes later, Arthur dropped into my office and handed me a well-loved copy of a self-help book on anger management.

"I think you might want to borrow this," he said.

Generosity. It practically bursts through the windows of this place.


photos by http://www.tedanddebbie.com/

Monday, May 2, 2011

Technical Difficulties

G making the rounds with his stack of papers: decidedly un-21st century

For those Homeboys and Homegirls who join us after years of incarceration, computer skills can be daunting. One Homeboy came to us with the proclamation "Yo, I wanna take some classes, but I'm not gonna f*** with a computer." Of course, after a month or two here, he shyly approached a tutor in the computer lab and said "Okay, how does this s*** work?" Now he's clacking away. However, an incomplete understanding of the advances in computer technology over the last decade is not unique to our trainees.

Father G. is always in a whirlwind of activity here, constantly coming or going to speaking events, and when he is at headquarters he tries to spend most of his time in the glass-walled office right behind reception, where you can see him leaning in with an intense focus toward whichever new recruit or newly released Homeboy happens to be asking him for a second chance. Sometimes, though, he has time to pop up to the offices and banter for a moment before dashing off again.

With the recent success of our Facebook page (we’ve grown to over 18,000 fans), many of the staff members here have signed on, Father G. included. The other day he came up, slightly flustered but bemused.

“Er,” he said, “I think we have a problem on my Facebook”

We looked at him, waiting.

“Well, I don’t really know how the tagging pictures things work. I don’t know what tagging is. I never put anything up.... anyway, some board members have come to me a little concerned about the racy pictures of me? How do I get them off?”

We navigated to his Facebook page. The first picture, splashed provocatively across the page, wasn’t exactly of him. It was tagged in an album labeled “sexxxy pics” and featured a very buxom young black woman in pink booty shorts and a tight cropped tank top revealing ample bosom, laying seductively on her side and giving the camera an intensely er, beckoning, look. Father G. sighed bravely in recognition, and we tried to pass off laughter while explaining how to detag.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Baby & Me



Friday mornings at Homeboy Industries are usually punctuated by a few excited shrieks and the occasional gurgle. A reality of life in South and East LA-- where most of our trainees and staff grew up-- is that often people start having kids at a really young age. Fifteen years old young.

By the time many make it to Homeboy, they often have two or three kids, and because many of our Homeboys and Homegirls were raised in unconventional arrangements-- if they weren't in foster care or simply without a home for most of their childhood-- they're eager to learn how to do things "right" with their own children. When you ask any homie what they are most proud of, it's a near guarantee that their answer will be "my kids."


That's why Fridays are a great time to peek into classroom A on the upper floor of Homeboy headquarters. The wide room with tall paneled windows is filled with hand-me-down toys and the happy chaos of a handful of children. Theresa, one of our in-house mental health clinicians, runs the class with a cheerful zing, leading the room in kitchen-utensil-aided song and advising one couple on how to gently attain authority during the "terrible twos." She convinces a usually tough homie to smile sheepishly and roll across the floor "like a worm", looking absolutely ridiculous and a little thrilled.


During the last year, Baby & Me has been visited nearly weekly by pediatric interns and residents from USC. It's a win-win situation: our clients have the opportunity to "ask the Doctor" (free of financial, transportation and "waiting" hassles) and these medical students have the opportunity to get to know something (something important, we hope) about our clients.



One Homeboy, who is now designing a course he wants to teach about being a real father, said that Baby & Me has made him realize a lot about parenting:"Most of us, we grew up in a society that's a little bit chauvinistic..gangsters aren't supposed to be fathers that are around, most of the time you're in prison and when you're not you're not expected to just sit around and actually play with your kid."

"In the class, you get to bond with your child and you get to see 'I can be a parent, too, I can spend time with and take care of my baby'"

Baby & Me only lasts for an hour and a half, but it's the kind of thing you want to carry around in your pocket all day.

Getting ready



Headquarters have been all a-fluster this week as we gear up for our annual awards dinner, Lo Maximo, this Saturday.

Homeboys hurry to find white button-downs. They experience the frustration and eventual joy of tying a tie for the first time.

Our event planner has set up shop in our supposed to be two but really four person office, and colorful post-its make a waterfall across large seating charts.

The Café is bustling and all the girls look a bit wide-eyed and over caffeinated; they have a long weekend ahead.

The theme of this year's event is "Virtual Homeboy"-- we give tours of our headquarters every day, but not everyone has had a chance to make it to our busy building. Instead, we're bringing Homeboy to them- setting up shop with tables for each of our departments to show what they do, from baking bread to preparing for the GED, removing tattoos and hunting for job opportunities.


"Lo Maximo" means "the greatest," and it's a night for us to celebrate our successes and thank our supporters. Tune in next week as we recap the event, and share some of the truly amazing stories of the Homeboys and Homegirls who will be speaking.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Word of the day

One encounters an arsenal of new, generally unusable-in-polite-company sayings within the first few weeks of spending time at Homeboy Industries. A small sampling of the overheard:

"Yo, what bank you messing with??" where I might say, "Where do you bank?"

"Can I f*** with your tape for a minute?," a variation on "Lemme hit that stapler"

In response to a query about a speech given at a recent event: "I kept it short, but brief"

And my favorite, which has been proven through extensive googling to actually be a word, albeit one used entirely out of context at Homeboy: "supposably," as in "Well, SUPPOSABLY I forgot to pay my taxes..."

One Homeboy who defies this trend of unusual usage is Saul, an 18 year old who will blatantly ignore the dress code of a Homeboy Industries shirt and jeans, often showing up in near professorial garb-- argyle sweater vests over button downs, garnished with heavy gold chains that really top the look off. One day his normally slicked-back hair magically transformed into corn rows during work.

Lately Saul has been coming into the office making declarations like "I CONCUR!" and pausing for a moment to let us absorb the gravity of his declaration. Then he'll say "that means: I agree," and walk out. One vocab word recently was"hyperbole" and another "consensus."


Saul telling stories outside

Saul casually mentioned to me once that what he likes most about Homeboy is that it feels like a family here, because, in his words, "I've been in and out of juvie for so long, and I've never really had a home.. or a family."

Last week, Saul was on the bus on the way to work. Sitting next to him, as he put it, was "a rich guy with a fancy cellphone."

Saul asked the man if he could look at the phone, played with it for a few minutes, and then gave it back. Entirely normal. The thing is, Saul used to get in trouble for having "sticky fingers"- he'd ask to see things in this way and then fly off of the bus with the cellphone or wallet in hand.

He was proud of himself, now, for having given the phone back, with a warning to the man; "you probably shouldn't just let kids like me see your stuff... they might take it, ya know?"

For the rest of that day, Saul's vocabulary word was "integrity."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wait, what is Homeboy Industries?


In case you've unintentionally stumbled upon this page, a brief explanation of Homeboy Industries: we are a non-profit gang intervention organization in Downtown Los Angeles. Over 12,000 people walk through our doors every year to take advantage of our free services- everything from tattoo removal to a charter high school, legal services to substance abuse counseling, baby & me classes to solar panel installation certification.

Our mission statement is "nothing stops a bullet like a job," and our social enterprises are the living example of this belief. Our Homegirl Café, Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl/Homeboy Merchandise, and Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery serve as training grounds for former gang members and high-risk youth to learn valuable skills while creating excellent products, and learning to work alongside former enemies.

However, at its heart, the true business of Homeboy Industries is not a business-- it is the fostering of a community of kinship, "gang rehab," a therapeutic place where former gang members, recently released, high-risk youth, and those cast aside are given what they need to return to society whole, healed, and resilient. The "bottom line" for Homeboy is to infuse hope in those for whom hope is foreign.



For more about Homeboy, check out our website:

http://homeboy-industries.org/








photos by http://www.tedanddebbie.com/

Thursday, March 31, 2011

We tell ourselves stories in order to live

This post shares a title with a collection of nonfiction by Joan Didion, and the idea is fitting for Homeboy Industries. Sometimes it seems like the biggest hurdle for the young people who come here is to formulate for themselves a new story of who they are. Getting their driver’s license, their GED, continuing to pass drug tests after years of substance abuse that felt necessary to survival; these are simple tasks compared to the Sisyphean challenge of creating a new narrative of what kind of a life they dare wish for. Homeboys and Homegirls are always the first to admit their mistakes, and usually the last to agree that they might deserve another chance.

This means that much of our work here goes beyond the practical- expunging legal records, removing facial tattoos- and into the intangible (and arguably more difficult) realm of being cheerleaders and life-story editors. One of the things you often hear is “I never thought I would...” When most people say this they are being facetious to some degree, but from the mouth of a Homeboy or Homegirl, the sentiment is literal. “I never thought I would graduate high school,” or even, “I never thought I would live to be eighteen.” This is why learning to tell a new story for themselves, the story of success, of healing, of moving into a different way of reacting to the world, is critical. It is absolutely what they must to do live, to stay away from the toxic stories and would-have-beens of their pasts.

This blog is a place for these chronicles of redemption and hope, and the occasional hiccup therein. It is a small window into what Homeboy Industries does, every day, as the largest and most effective gang-intervention program in the nation. We hope you will enjoy our stories, and we encourage you to come back often to read them.




photos by http://www.tedanddebbie.com/