Jobs not jails: Helping youth turn their lives around

Children without hope can be found in every community. Father Greg Boyle has been working on this issue for decades through Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. He spoke in Charlotte this week about Homeboy, which is recognized as the largest gang intervention program in the country. Homeboy Industries’ slogan is, “nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

Father Greg spoke at A Night for Children’s Rights on Feb. 15. Sponsored by the Council for Children’s Rights, this benefit focused on unlocking the potential of Charlotte’s children. Executive Director Brett Loftis reminded the crowd of the great number of children in our community in need, and staff attorney Deborah Whitfield spoke about what it means to stand up for every child. But the true highlight of the evening was keynote speaker Father Greg Boyle.

Father Boyle, founder and CEO of Homeboy Industries, relayed his own story of how he went from helping a few gang members through his jobs program, Jobs For a Future, to running the multifaceted Homeboy Industries, which has served thousands and has become a national model for gang intervention programs.

Homeboy helps at-risk and gang-involved youth with a continuum of services and programs designed to meet their multiple needs. Homeboy Industries also runs six businesses that serve as job-training sites for youth involved with the organization. The organization is founded on the belief that no life is less valuable than another and that nothing stops a bullet like a job, two messages that came to life throughout the night.

As he traced through this journey, Father Boyle wove into the narrative several powerful stories of a few of the many youth he has met and changed along the way. Referring jovially to the participants of Homeboy Industries as “homies” or “homeboys” and “homegirls,” he spoke genuinely about these youth caught up in the gang life and how once given support, a focus and an opportunity, they were able to imagine and work toward a different future for themselves.

It was through these stories that the power of Homeboy Industries to transform lives of despair into lives of hope became real. Father Boyle put it best when he remarked that his mission is to infuse hope into those for whom hope is foreign. That hope is a job.

Although his stories all centered on youth in Los Angeles, Father Boyle reminded those gathered that children without hope can be found in every community. He challenged everyone in the room to connect with these youth, give them a second chance, and become an important figure in their lives.

Here in Charlotte, Council for Children’s Rights along with many other organizations in the community work with these very children everyday to give them the support they need. With this support comes the hope that they too may overcome any obstacles they face.

To learn more about Homeboy Industries, click here.

Claire Apaliski