Los Angeles County is over 4,000 square miles, and is larger than combined areas of the states of Rhode Island and Delaware. By some estimates there are 1,100 gangs and 86,000 gang members in Los Angleles county, home to 88 incorporated cities as well as many more unincorporated areas.
According to the LAPD, there are more than 250 active gangs in the City of Los Angeles alone. Many of these gangs have been in existence for over 50 years with a combined membership of over 26,000 individuals.
Thanks to Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, generations of L.A. gang members have quit their ruthless, violent, dead end street lives and landed jobs at Homeboy Industries — the largest gang rehabilitation program in the country where the mission statement is “Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job”.
According to the popular Southern California supermarket chain Ralphs, Homeboy Industries’ tortilla chips and salsa is now their number one snack seller, a category usually dominated by Frito-Lay and Kraft Foods.
As LATime’s writer Betty Hallock notes, just getting Homeboy chips on the shelves is a coup, and the result of a collaboration with Ralphs, which waived the slotting fees food manufacturers pay grocery companies to carry a new product. Ralphs donated $50,000 to the Homeboy project which provides tattoo removal, counseling, and jobs to L.A. gang members.
Last year, scant government funding and no major donations forced Father Boyle to lay off 330 ex-gang members when he couldn’t raise the $5 million needed to operate.
So to generate more income, corporate savvy Bruce Karatz, now a Homeboy consultant, helped organize a marketing campaign to promote Homeboy salsas — based on Homegirl Café chef Patricia “Pati” Zarate’s recipes — which became Ralphs number one snack.
Ralphs originally offered the Homegirl Café salsa in the deli section but Karatz arranged to have chips made by Snak King and Zarate’s salsa commercially prepared by El Burrito Food Products Inc. using chef Patricia “Pati” Zarate’s recipes. Homeboy receives part of the sales in an agreement with the manufacturers, the distributor and Ralphs.
Homeboy Industries provides job training and placement assistance in a setting where former gang rivals find themselves working side by side. Ex-gang members can learn job skills as well as establish a resume and work experience.
Homeboy’s businesses include the Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen, which prints logos on apparel and provides embroidery services; Homeboy Maintenance, which provides landscaping and maintenance services; Homeboy Merchandise, which sells t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, and mouse pads with the Homeboy logo.
Homegirl Café has 86 seats, plus a dedicated Catering kitchen and provides a training ground dedicated to female clients in all aspects of the restaurant and service industry.
Father Gregory Boyle
Father Gregory Boyle is one of eight children and was born in Los Angeles. His father, a third-generation Irish-American, worked on the family-owned dairy in Los Angeles County. As a youth, Father Boyle and his siblings worked side by side with their father in the dairy. After graduating from Loyola High School in Los Angeles in 1972, he entered the order of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and was ordained a priest in 1984.
Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in 1988 after he buried his first young person killed on L.A. streets because of gang violence. Boyle has since buried 166 more youths because of gang wars. Boyle visualized Homeboy Industries as a vehicle to provide training, work experience, and an opportunity for rival gang members to work side by side.
Among his many accolades, Father Boyle has given commencement addresses at numerous universities, spoken at conferences for teachers, social workers, criminal justice workers and others about the importance of adult attention, guidance, and unconditional love in preventing youth from joining gangs.
Father Boyle was a guest on The Dr. Phil show last December in a segment called “Trouble Teens Turnaround” where Boyle discussed strategies to help troubled kids.
“We get about 15,000 folks who walk through our doors every year, gang members trying to redirect their lives,” said Boyle, who is also author of “Tattoos on the Heart” (#12 on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list for December 26, 2010). “They might come for tattoo removal and discover that we can locate a job for them or maybe they need counseling.”
Homeboy Industries invites you to contribute tax-deductible financial support to help underwrite their programs, services and job-training businesses. Please click to donate.