Saving Young Lives: Speaks with the Founder of Homeboy Industries

By Megan Driscoll

fr greg boyle Please describe the mission and philosophy of Homeboy Industries for our readers.

Father Greg: Homeboy Industries is the largest, most comprehensive and most successful gang intervention and rehab center in the world. It's a place where gang members can come to redirect their lives. Can you tell us about your background and how you founded Homeboy Industries?

FG: I grew up in Los Angeles and have a Master of Divinity. Earlier in my career as a Jesuit priest, I was assigned to Delores Mission Parish. Nestled in the middle of two public housing projects, it was at that time the poorest parish in the city. The highest concentration of gang activity in the whole world was in my neighborhood, in my parish.

I found myself burying young people, the first funeral I oversaw being in 1988. (My 174th will be sometime this week.) I just had to do something to confront the violence. So we started a school first of all, and then a jobs program and then our businesses. Each step we've taken has been to meet the concrete needs of this population. Homeboy Industries started off as the Homeboy Bakery. Can you describe how it evolved into the multifaceted organization that it is now?

FG: The bakery was our first business. When the demand was too great and there weren't enough jobs in the church for the population, a movie producer bought the empty vacant bakery across the street from the church for me. We called it Homeboy Bakery, and we were off and running. A month later, we started Homeboy Tortillas in the Grand Central Market; once we had two businesses, we came up with 'Homeboy Industries.' Homeboy Industries offers a wide range of gang intervention services, from employment counseling to tattoo removal. Can you describe how education fits into the program, and what types of education services you provide?

FG: We have a school still on the premises for young folks and GED classes. We encourage people to go on to higher education or vocational training, helping with applications and finding the right schools.

However, frankly, rare is the moment when somebody from this population is applying for college. It's happened occasionally, but it's quite uncommon. Homebody Industries is described as a 'national model' for gang intervention. Have you worked with other organizations to help export that model? Can you tell us about those organizations and what that process looks like?

FG: We're an international model, not just because we say that we are, but because Sweden and Uruguay and Spain say it, and Wichita and Spokane and Miami, too.

There are a lot of places where people have started very similar projects, but they're still projects born from the ground up in those specific cities and countries. What does the future of Homeboy Industries look like? Can you describe any specific goals you have for the organization?

FG: First, we want to keep our doors open. We would also love to have the city, county and state acknowledge that we save the county $20 million a year - and that we save the state the same amount of money. Our hope is that this will get recognized at some point so that the county will help us more than it does. Many of our readers may be interested in supporting the mission of Homeboy Industries. How can they get involved?

FG: For local people, we accept volunteers. Currently, we have about a hundred.

And we certainly take donations - it takes a lot of money to run this place. About 1,000 folks a month walk through our doors seeking our services, unlike a lot of comparable programs in the country, which struggle to get people to show up. How do you get so many people coming to you?

FG: It's all evolved. We probably were serving only the gang members from the projects first. But now we're in our fourth location, and we serve the whole county, which includes about 1,100 gangs and 86,000 gang members. I suspect folks from just about every gang in the whole county have walked through the doors here. Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about Homeboy Industries, gang intervention and the work you're doing to transform young people's lives.

FG: It's very gratifying to watch people inhabit the truth of who they are, to see that they're exactly what God had in mind when God made them. And that they don't have to become something that they're not; they just have to discover the truth of who they are. It's a nice, heartening thing to witness. I like arriving at work every day to view this. And the day never fails, it always reveals it.

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