When most people think of a non-profit organization, they likely think about creating a business that will aid the poor and marginalized by providing services, food, care, and other donations. That’s not what Father Greg Boyle thought when he conceived the idea to create Homeboy Industries.
Homeboy is a unique non-profit because it employs the people who it is helping. Homeboy Industries consist of seven different business units a few of which are: Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Cafe, Homeboy Diner, and Homeboy Foods. The program is open to anyone who has been involved in a gang and has decided to make a change in his/her life. Once the individual has made the decision to leave gang life behind, Homeboy provides the person with a support system including a job. This really helps to keep the previous gang members on their feet and gives them a place to call ‘home’ and start their new life. Fr. Greg learned early on that the decision to leave a gang is that of the member and no one else can make that choice for them. The mission of the organization is best illustrated in its slogan “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
My service group and I had the privilege of touring the facility and learning about the program first hand from a ‘homegirl’ named Elayana. I remember vividly standing outside of the building on a patio near the garden as Elayana shared her story with us. I can only imagine the look on my face as I learned about her shocking life. She shared with us a particular time when she had a near-death experience due to gang violence. She even said that “I should’ve been dead.” Now she is working at Homeboy and taking classes in different areas of improvement including anger management and financial preparedness. Classes like these are part of the program for every person who works at Homeboy and is part of the program.
After the tour we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Homegirl Cafe. The food was absolutely fantastic and reflected the West coast and Latino cuisine that is reflected in its chefs and employees. I think the creation of Homeboy Industries is a really innovative and optimistic approach to alleviate gang violence and reward hard work in the LA community. I wonder if there are any similar nonprofits in Chicago. If you have worked with nonprofits, how has your experiences been?