A Homeboy holiday

This time of year, my mailbox is stuffed with catalogs -- page after page of gadgets and gift suggestions, items that no one really seems to need. But then, a couple of days ago, something quite different hit my front steps.

It was a small, colorful brochure from Homeboy Industries, the nonprofit business founded by Jesuit Fr. Greg Boyle to create jobs for often-unemployable ex-gangsters and gang-girls in Los Angeles. This little mailing was just the latest sign of how Fr. Boyle and his donors have turned around an establishment that looked to be in a death spiral just one year ago.

As the economy plunged, so did donations to Homeboy -- Fr. Boyle took to the airwaves and implored people to step up donations and keep the place afloat. He promised he had a plan to build a Homeboy group that could stand on its own financial feet. People in Los Angeles came through, and so did Fr. Greg (G-Dog to his gangster clients.)

The holiday mailing lists the remarkable year Homeboy has had: wide distribution of their salsas and chips on major Sothern California supermarket chains; Homeboy teams sent out to more than 20 local farmers markets to sell their goods; the opening of Homeboy Diner on the second floor of Los Angeles City Hall; more than 400 youths enrolled in job-readiness classes.

Beyond all that, Fr. Boyle himself just this month was inducted into the California Hall of Fame and was named an Opus Prize finalist, winning a $100,000 award for his efforts to end gang violence and the cycle of poverty in LA's poorest neighborhoods.

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And so this lovely brochure sits on my kitchen table. "Warmest Holidays to You," it says, and details the line of fresh-baked holiday gifts I can order from Homeboy Bakery and the Homegirls Cafe: cookies, pies, tamales and catering for special events. The mailing looks inviting and, well, professional, a goal Fr. Boyle set out for himself and his group -- the best holiday gift that all have given to each other.

Homeboy Industries still counts on donations -- you can only help so many people selling $2 tamales. But Homeboy is on solid foundation: diversified, energized and creative.

That's a place more companies wish they were at these days.

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