Homeboy needs your help

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Were you thinking of having your car washed this weekend? Well, let the Prius or Bentley go dirty for another week and consider spending just $10 on a "virtual carwash," the proceeds of which will go to save the lives of some of our city's most imperiled young people.

Car washes are an Eastside tradition. When someone falls on hard times -- loses a job, suffers an illness, needs to make a family member's bail or pay for an unexpected burial -- neighbors hold a car wash.

Homeboy Industries, the internationally admired gang-intervention program founded by Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, in Boyle Heights more than 20 years ago, is about as good a neighbor to all of L.A. as you're likely to find, and the unapologetic goal of this column is to convince you to go to its website -- www.homeboy-industries.org -- to participate in its virtual car wash.

Here's why: Homeboy is one of Los Angeles' civic treasures because it's not only an institution that lives in constant attention to the better angels of our nature, but one that works. By any objective measure, it is a phenomenally successful operation in a field in which successes are scant and hard-won. From a storefront on 1st Street in one of the city's toughest and most violent neighborhoods, Homeboy has grown into a nondenominational, nonprofit service agency headquartered in its own building near Union Station, just north of downtown. It serves more than 8,000 young men and women who formerly belonged to more than 700 gangs. They work in its popular bakery and cafe, or in landscaping, solar power and other industries; they get counseling on legal, psychological and addiction issues; there's academic tutoring, and, if they choose, they even have their gang tattoos removed. The program helps them find employment in private industries whose executives share Boyle's belief that the best social program is a good job.

Unfortunately, Homeboy Industries is being overwhelmed by the tsunami of need washing across our country. As the demands for its services rise, state financing and much of the private foundation philanthropy on which the organization relies have dried up. Though the bakery and cafe bring in a phenomenal $2.5 million annually, $7.3 million has to be raised from other sources. Earlier this year, when money from Sacramento evaporated and the foundations began walking away from their pledges, Homeboy found itself with a $1.3-million shortfall. The city of Los Angeles promised to make $500,000 available as payment for services. The money was to come in monthly increments, starting July 1.

That date came and went without a word from City Hall, let alone a check. Friday, I asked Jeff Carr, who runs L.A.'s gang-intervention efforts for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, what had happened to the promised funds? He explained that the city intended to pass along $500,000 in federal aid previously earmarked for Boyle Heights, but had discovered the account was $160,000 short. The mayor's office is trying to scrape the rest of that money together, and then must get federal Department of Justice and City Council approval to allocate it to Homeboy.

Carr said he was "confident the money will come, but it may not happen until September." He admitted that "the cash-flow problems this creates for Homeboy are not a small matter" and attributed the delay to the "glacial pace of government."

In the meantime, Carr said, the city plans to spend $200,000 buying T-shirts and polo shirts from Homeboy's silk-screening business for the Summer Nights Lights programs in municipal parks. On July 27, Villaraigosa has a private meeting scheduled with Boyle, after which, Carr says, the mayor will start working the phones trying to drum up major donors to help Homeboy through until fall.

In the meantime, there's the virtual car wash. If you go to www.homeboy-industries.org, you'll find a charming short video featuring Martin Sheen and other actors as well as Angelenos from all walks of life who've already given. (Boyle hopes visitors will download the video and spread it around.) One of the most surprising faces is the LAPD's chief of detectives, Charlie Beck; the pre-Bill Bratton department regarded Boyle with suspicious hostility.

Why is Beck participating? "I'm not a religious guy," he said, "but I really respect Father Boyle and the work they do at Homeboy. We may differ on individuals or cases once in a while, but their overall goal is so purely good, how can you not support them? Whether you agree with Father Boyle or not, he's got skin in the game."

Amen. So make a contribution online or mail your check to 130 W. Bruno St., L.A. 90012. Trade a virtual car wash for the real feeling of doing the right thing.



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