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.

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