Counteracting the Absence of Hope, One Job at a Time"The business of second chances is everybody's business."
At the Homegirl Cafe in downtown Los Angeles, chef Patricia Zarate's delicious mole sauce takes its complex flavor from no less than 42 ingredients.
For the young women working in the kitchen to assemble it, the recipe for success in their own lives is just as rich and multifaceted. Homegirl Cafe is one of the businesses of Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit organization that helps at-risk and formerly gang-involved youths turn their lives around, in part through job training programs. The motto: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job."
Those recovering from gangs, drugs and a revolving door of incarceration gain hands-on skills working in either the cafe, the Homeboy Bakery, the Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery business, Homeboy farmers markets or in the headquarters' retail store. But Homeboy Industries is much more than just a paycheck for these young people.
The other "ingredients" in the organization's effectiveness (70 percent of those involved stay out of prison for good) are its free programs, including counseling, education and tattoo removal. Father Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy as a jobs program 25 years ago, notes, "We've evolved into a greater therapeutic community."
In Boyle's experience, what drives kids to join gangs is the "lethal absence of hope" that pervades impoverished groups. For individuals like Will Lopez, 26, whose involvement in gangs led to incarceration beginning at age 13, participating in Homeboy's various programs imparts a renewed sense of purpose and optimism.
Lopez walked through Homeboy's doors in 2010 and worked his way up to become a mental health assistant at the organization. "Today I'm a domestic violence facilitator," he says. "Today I am no longer on parole. Today I have my own apartment with my wife and daughter. Today life is good."
While the organization assists 15,000 individuals per year, its message of hope radiates beyond those served. "This place is not just concrete help for all these thousands," says Boyle, "but it also announces a message to the world: Human beings are involved here."
Formerly gang-involved youths are often stigmatized in the job market, he says. Through the "Hire a Homeboy" campaign, Homeboy Industries is working to spread the conviction that "the business of second chances is everybody's business."
Those interested in supporting Homeboy Industries can get involved in a number of ways. Volunteers do everything from teaching to tattoo removal to legal counseling. Donations are always welcome, as keeping the free programs up and running is "always a struggle," according to Boyle.
But patronizing the businesses — from buying a cookie at a Homeboy farmers market stand to having your products silk-screened to purchasing Boyle's book, "Tattoos on the Heart," in the retail shop — is also a great way to not only contribute but also get to know the young men and women striving for a better life.
And, of course, the mole in the cafe is not to be missed. It's a favorite of Boyle's, who notes, "You really need all 42 ingredients to make it taste like that."