“Our Door is Always Open”
Over 32 years ago, Father Greg Boyle worked in a neighborhood of L.A. with roughly eight separate gangs fighting for every square inch of turf. Boyle, a Jesuit priest at Dolores Mission, preached and lived in this corner of Los Angeles, the poorest parish west of the Mississippi. Many residents within the Pico Aliso Garden Projects found their neighbors unapproachable due to the presence of gang members, ex-convicts, and felons. Father Boyle, however, saw something different, “what father Boyle and the mothers in the community saw was a lethal absence of hope in the youth,” shared Alison Lass, Manager of Global Homeboy Network and Media Relations, in an interview with The Business Download. These people were struggling with trauma and needed help.
So Father Boyle decided to do something about it. He started Jobs for the Future, which would later become Homeboy Industries, and set about building a program that would help formerly incarcerated people, those affected by drugs, or marginalized persons receive social assistance and education that would provide them with a path to a job and a future. In 1992, Homeboy Industries set up their first bakery, Homeboy Bakery, which provided ex-cons and felons with an opportunity for employment while learning a marketable skill. Later, they opened up a silkscreen print business, and now they operate eight social enterprises that provide education, training, and assistance to roughly 9,000 men and women a year, according to Lass.
The Mission of Homeboy Enterprises is two-fold. Each year, 350 former incarcerated individuals, drug users, or marginalized people seeking help go through the organization’s reentry program. Homeboy’s social programs help with education and job training for those on the path to redemption, and their support system provides counseling, tattoo removal, case management, and much more. “We have AA meetings, NA meetings, Anonymous Criminals meetings, and Gang Members Anonymous meetings,” Lass said. “We offer a life skills educational pathway, we have a GED program, there’s a pathway to a college program.” Case management is largely tackled by “navigators” who are men and women that have been through Homeboy’s 18-month program and lead others in their community to a new life.
“So what we try and work on during the 18 months is getting rid of some of the collateral consequences and barriers of being a felon, having a felony record, and also being formerly incarcerated,” Lass shared. “So we want to get people their driver’s license, we want to get them housing stability, we want to get them off of probation or parole. We want them to reunify with their children and with their families, we want to provide them with a trade pathway or an educational pathway.” With over 11,000 tattoos removed, over 4,000 mental health therapy sessions attended, and 82 graduates of their solar training program last year, Homeboy Enterprises has no shortage of success stories. Their newest programs in the high-paying clean energy sector are particularly beneficial, providing many with something that’s rare for anyone: pride in their work.
“Going From This Lethal Absence of Hope to Having Hope”
The future looks bright at Homeboy Industries thanks to their newest initiatives training members of their reentry program for a career in the clean energy sector. After their first few months in the program, members begin to work 3-4 days in one of Homeboy’s social enterprises like the bakery, silk screen printing, or their new e-waste recycling program. This provides them with some of the first moments of balance in their lives. “They’re working on themselves the other two days a week.” Lass said. “So they’re taking classes, they’re going to mental health therapy appointments, they’re going to their AA meetings, they’re engaged with the community and healing.”
While working in the recycling program, they break down electronics and technology into their recyclable components. This keeps dangerous metals and precious elements out of the landfill and ultimately allows the materials to be reused in future devices. Doing work that matters and prepares them for the future, gives these marginalized individuals a true sense of purpose, accomplishment, and pride. Homeboy recycling and solar training programs serve a dual purpose. “It’s good for the planet, and it’s good workforce development,” Lass shared. “There’s so many benefits to it, because one, it’s sustainable jobs, but it’s not even just a job when you are working in those fields. It’s really career-based.”
Lass says she’s seen graduates of their solar program go on to start their own solar panel installation business, and she’s found posts on social media showing graduates of Homeboy’s programs taking pride in bringing clean energy to their communities. There were difficulties getting the program started, but after a handful of solar installations, companies found success with the graduates of Homeboy’s training program. It created a real pathway to solar careers for these graduates. “I think what they found was that our folks were, you know, trained.” Lass said. “They were educated well, they passed the national test, and they were hard workers.” The graduates go on to enter the highest paying median wage sector in the country and gain the ability to work almost anywhere. However, the truly remarkable part is what it does for their self-worth.
“What a Great Consequence”
Lass shared, “There’s not a price that you can put on people feeling good about the work that they’re doing and the jobs that they’re doing. They can do this work and feel good about it and also know that they are supporting their families and putting groceries in their refrigerators and a roof over their heads, and they are able to buy cars and even think about ‘how do I get together a down payment for a house.’ So we’re hearing and seeing language in people that is really remarkable. Going from this lethal absence of hope to having hope, and being skilled, and then having a career pathway, it’s an incredible cycle to witness and see.”