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

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!


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

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.