Friday, May 14, 2010

Nothing stops a bullet like a job...

Nothing stops a bullet like a job is an interesting tagline for a business. But this isn't just another profit-producing business.

HOMEBOY Industries is a company that "assists at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education."

I saw a lot of tattoos and piercings today. I clutched my wallet a little tighter, not knowing what to expect.

I was wrong.

I heard about HOMEBOY Industries through my boss - she recommended their cafe, "Homegirl Cafe," so my colleagues and I took a lunch break in downtown LA. We found the bright yellow building that houses more than just the delicious, alternative cafe. It houses a bakery; they produce their own silkscreen and embroidered merchandise; there is a charter high school on location to help youth gain their education; job development, case management, tattoo removal, mental health counseling, and curriculum and legal services are also offered.

Our waitress was absolutely beautiful. She had one half of her scalp almost shaved, with two interlocking hearts shaved on that side, and the other half was hanging long past her shoulders. I asked her what the story is behind HOMEBOY Industries. She explained that Father Greg Boyle started the whole program. "Homeboy Industries traces its roots to “Jobs For A Future” (JFF), a program created in 1988 by 'Fr. Greg' at Dolores Mission parish. In an effort to address the escalating problems and unmet needs of gang-involved youth, Fr. Greg and the community developed positive alternatives, including establishing an elementary school, a day care program and finding legitimate employment for young people. JFF’s success demonstrated the model followed today that many gang members are eager to leave the dangerous and destructive life on the “streets.”

In 1992, as a response to the civil unrest in Los Angeles, Fr. Greg launched the first business (under the organizational banner of JFF and Proyecto Pastoral, separated from Dolores Mission Church): Homeboy Bakery with a mission to create an environment that provided training, work experience, and above all, the opportunity for rival gang members to work side by side. The success of the Bakery created the groundwork for additional businesses, thus prompting JFF to become an independent non-profit organization, Homeboy Industries, in 2001."

I devoured my "YuYu" sandwich. Turkey with dulce de mango and chipotle, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and mayo, on a beautiful roll. The presentation was half the experience. The service couldn't have been better.

After a financial crisis, HOMEBOY Industries had to lay off 300 employees and close its doors, after 23 years. We saw cameras and reporters outside of the restaurant while we were eating. I wish HOMEBOY Industries all the luck in the world. They deserve it.

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