Four years after starting a program to help gang members get out of the city to cool off their rivalries, Edward Byrom, a Franciscan brother, plans to expand his efforts into a more business-oriented venture.
In a partnership with The East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU), the Dismas Youth Program will now be known as the Dismas Development Corp. TELACU had first contracted with Dismas in September, 1993, to hire 21 gang members from around its City View Terrace townhome development for construction jobs. Of those, 16 have been hired by construction contractors, said TELACU spokeswoman J.C. Flores.
The new corporation, although still a nonprofit, will take on community development projects of its own. The goal is to become more self-sufficient and to provide long-term employment for its workers.
It is negotiating with the city of Los Angeles for contracts to rehabilitate condemned buildings. Other projects under way include a program to establish a union on the construction site of an apartment complex, and a contract to build single-family residences for an affordable-housing developer.
Byrom founded Dismas Youth Program in 1990 when he learned of a youth whose brother was shot to death right in front of him. Byrom arranged to have the young man removed from his neighborhood to give him a chance to cool off. He then founded Dismas, named after the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus, to give gang members an opportunity to spend a few days at a Malibu retreat owned by the Catholic Church and have job training when they return.
"It shows that people can change and people do change; all they have to do is ask," said Byrom.