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The Deacon's Bench

53758707.jpgEvery now and then — not nearly often enough — I read about something vital and important that shows the gospel being lived in ways that are truly transforming lives, and I say: “This has to continue. This has to be supported.”

This is one of those stories, from the Los Angeles Times:

This should be a triumphant moment for Father Gregory Boyle.

The founder of Homeboy Industries just published a memoir that has been well reviewed, and focused more attention on his decades of work using jobs to get young people out of gangs.

A major supermarket wants to mass-produce Homegirl Cafe’s salsa, and the priest dreams that it could become Homeboy Industries’ version of Newman’s Own salad dressing. The cafe is even in the running to expand into a new wing at LAX, Boyle said.

But on Friday, he was struggling to keep Homeboy Industries alive.

The day before, Boyle had announced that Homeboy was laying off 300 employees, including all senior staff and administrators, and that he had stopped collecting a paycheck.

“If you look at the trajectory of Homeboy, it’s unbelievable. And that’s the irony,” the 55-year-old Boyle said Friday. “This place has never been healthier in terms of its vision. And we have no money.”

The article goes on to explain the financial challenges facing the organization, and how the recession has hit the group especially hard. It also explains how it all began, in the early 1990s:

At first, Boyle delved into some of the most dangerous neighborhoods on the city’s Eastside, gaining a reputation as a charismatic but forceful priest with a knack for moving gang members, even if police officers thought he just protected them. In the early days, he even attended some gang parties.

But years ago, concerned about giving gangs too much respect, he changed his approach. Rather than dealing directly with gang activities, Boyle began to focus on gang members trying to leave the life. Homeboy specializes in job training and mental health counseling, as well as tattoo removal and job placement.

This shift, however, has hurt Homeboy’s ability to get local government anti-gang funds. Local officials in recent years have been more interested in on-the-ground gang intervention programs that attempt to defuse dangerous gang feuds…

…In recent years, Homeboy has expanded significantly, symbolized by the new headquarters near Chinatown that has become a local landmark. When the recession hit two years ago, the demand for training and counseling also increased. But at the same time, revenuedeclined, and Homeboy has struggled to keep its finances afloat. It’s now serving 12,000 current and former gang members a year but has a $5-million deficit…

Outside his office, as TV crews and callers with surefire ways to get out of this mess vied for Boyle’s attention, Brian Moon, a tattooed 22-year-old from Koreatown, said that he may have lost his paycheck, but not his faith in the group, or the priest.

“There’s nowhere else but up,” he said. “I’m not worried.”

Asked if he was as optimistic, Boyle smiled.

“I’m always more hopeful than I am optimistic,” he said. “Hope comes from the soul; optimism comes from observable evidence. And this place is soaked with hope.”

Check out more at the LA Times link. There’s also a wonderful appreciation by John Coleman, S.J. at America’s blog “In All Things.”

And for still more, visit the Homeboy Industries website.

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