Signs of the times

There's a Jesuit priest here in Los Angeles who anxiously needs a little Hugh Hefner in his life. And, no, that's not what I'm talking about.

The priest is Fr. Greg Boyle, a local hero for the lives he's saved from the vise-grip of gangland -- placing homeboys and homegirls in jobs, getting them counseling, keeping them on the straight line to something resembling a better life. His organization -- Homeboy Industries -- helps 12,000 young men and women move away from the violent life each year.

But Fr. Greg is facing the non-profit equivalent of foreclosure -- last week the eighteen year old program had to lay off 330 of the 427 people they employ. Homeboy Industries desperately needs five million dollars to fund itself this year -- and so far no one big has stepped up to fill the gap.

Hey, it happens, right? No one -- no matter how well intentioned -- is guaranteed decades of success. But this is Los Angeles -- where last week a gaggle of millionaires and billionaires stepped up an pitched in big time to save ... the Hollywood sign. A housing developer had purchased hill-side land around the sign, threatening to alter forever the look of this L.A. icon. Well, that wasn;t going to fly with the rich and famous -- at the eleventh hour Hugh Hefner came up with the final million dollars (matched by a wealthy California investment outfit), and the sign was saved.

For which I am grateful. The Hollywood sign is wonderful, and the green hills that frame are as much a part of it's appeal as anything else. Good for us. job well done. Now what about Greg Boyle's 12,000 kids?

Fr. Greg has a plan to survive if he can get past this crunch -- legit businesses. Homegirl catering, Homeboy breads, Homeboy clothes are all established brands in Southern California. Major supermarket chains carry their products, big corporations call on them as caterers. As their growth continues, they will finance the social programs and counseling Homeboy also delivers. But Fr. Greg needs more time.

As Tim Rutten writes in the Los Angeles Times, what happens over the next few days and weeks will tell us what kind of place Los Angeles really. As Fr. Boyle told Rutten, this is a town that "wouldn't close an animal shelter ever." Will it let Homeboy Industries shrink and all those young people flounder?

Note to Mr. Hefner: you've done your part for L.A. Put the checkbook away. (I'm not sure Fr. Greg would want the snarky headlines, anyway.) But someone else with a fat wallet and a big heart and the need to give to something less glamorous but no less iconic -- come on. Stand and deliver.

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