Support comprehensive food service training for up to 28 formerly gang-involved young women in full time employment at Homegirl Café, a full service restaurant in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. _________________________________________________________________________________________________
Young women and girls in the at-risk, former gang member and parolee community face particular challenges, as many of them are also young and/or single mothers. It is difficult for them to find employment and many struggle to balance day care needs, managing the family budget, schooling, and work. The strength of these women is their ability to form networks of assistance and to pool together limited resources to cover their basic needs. Many are struggling just to make ends meet, and have limited time or resources to dedicate towards improving their situation. At Homeboy we strive to train them well and help them find positions outside Homegirl Café when ready, but also to create an environment where they can find support, grow, and improve their situation. The chance to maintain a steady job and earn an honest income has been the foundation of Homeboy Industries’ intervention philosophy since its inception, and has time and again proved a foundation to encourage and support change. An integral part of the Homeboy model is the ability to earn an income while also making use of our support services and classes to improve their long-term economic prospects. These resources, including education for a high school diploma or GED, financial literacy, tattoo removal, driver’s ed, parenting, mental health counseling, legal services and case management, are available and are a mandatory part of their program/work day, thus creating a holistic approach to moving out of poverty. By offering multi-level solutions, Homeboy recognizes that leaving gang life is a process, and that re-directing lives in a positive direction strengthens not only the individual, but also that person’s family, enabling them to be leaders and role models themselves. In so doing, they are also providing a more constructive, healthy environment for their children.
Understanding that moving out of a gang and making a positive change in one’s life is an ongoing and often challenging process. Outcomes are measured in a variety of ways; primarily, we measure attendance. A frequent struggle is simply teaching our young women to show up, reliably and on time, every day. It is important to note that our staff are mothers/sisters/primary wage earners in their families, thus the impact on their lives has a ripple effect through their community.
Homeboy is utterly unique in its work as a gang-intervention and re-entry program. We have been fortunate that Dr. Jorja Leap of UCLA’s School of Public Policy and a recognized international expert on gangs and gang-related violence has just completed the second of a five-year longitudinal evaluation of Homeboy Industries. Preliminary themes point to meaningful findings about the effective mechanisms of individual and community change that Homeboy has developed. According to the study’s findings to date, Homeboy has an 70% retention rate as compared to other programs (with some components, not comprehensive services) in which the average retention is about 20%. “The combination of a therapeutic milieu, job development and placement, on-site wrap-around services coupled with an affective environment of attachment and mentoring is,” Dr. Leap states, “unparalleled at a national as well as international level: In my professional opinion, Homeboy Industries, now in its 22nd year, is the preeminent anti-gang agency in the world, serving a population of both at-risk and violent youth who represent a variety of cultures and international communities.”
Our businesses are experiencing continued growth. Homegirl Café is participating in a bid to open a branch in LAX (Los Angeles International Airport). Ralph’s grocery store, specifically the branch in downtown Los Angeles, is now carrying Homegirl Café’s salsas. The hope is to have a larger roll out of products at Ralph’s through out the Los Angeles area.
Homegirl Café currently employees 35 people who rely not only on the support and wages they receive but also on the safe environment and free services available to them at Homeboy Industries. All of this makes working at Homegirl Café and Catering even more meaningful than just being employed. The full array of services, the job training and the life and professional skills learned while “on the job” is invaluable to help in providing hope for the future for many of Homeboy Industries’ clients.