Thomas Vozzo, CEO of Homeboy Industries. (Photo by Ringo Chiu).

Thomas Vozzo, CEO of Homeboy Industries. (Photo by Ringo Chiu). Photo by Ringo Chiu.

For 33 years, Homeboy Industries has turned helping people into a business — and business is good.

Since 1988, the organization founded by Jesuit priest Father Greg Boyle has developed into what it calls the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and reentry program in the world. Through its services and social enterprises, the organization helps more than 8,000 people annually. It brought in $30.4 million in 2020 in the form of revenues, grants and donations — an increase of $8.6 million, or 40%, from the previous year.

 
More than $6 million of that income was generated by Homeboy’s social enterprises, a network of businesses such as Homeboy Bakery and Homegirl Catering that subsidize its social programs and offer a second chance to individuals who were previously involved in gangs or incarcerated.

 
That second chance comes not only in the form of rehabilitation services but also in compensation for these individuals, whom the organization calls trainees, through employment aimed at breaking generations-old cycles of poverty, crime and violence. Either through jobs or grants, Homeboy paid $5.4 million in client compensation last year, amounting to 23% of the organization’s 2020 expenses. Some of these expenses include services such as tattoo removal, case management, substance abuse treatment and other programs.


Work therapy

Boyle began the organization as a jobs program, originally called Jobs For a Future, operated out of Boyle Heights’ Dolores Mission parish. Embracing the notion of “purposeful activity” for formerly incarcerated people, the program launched its first business, Homeboy Bakery, in 1992 in a warehouse across the street from the church.

“Father Boyle realized we should ‘bake bread to hire homies, not hire homies to bake bread,’ meaning the emphasis is on giving them a good-quality job and allow them to kind of have a safe place, earn some money, heal and get out of gang life,” Chief Executive Thomas Vozzo said.


Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery followed in 1994, spearheaded by Ruben and Cristina Rodriguez, who still run it today.


As the organization grew, however, what Boyle and the team at Homeboy quickly realized was that employment alone would not help their trainees turn their lives around.

 
Vozzo said 90% of their trainees have never worked more than a month in their lives elsewhere, so the company began developing other private wraparound services like tattoo removal and substance abuse treatment in order to prevent recidivism.

 
“Our social enterprises are an important part of our work therapy, but all this leads to helping an individual heal,” he said.


Homeboy formalized its 18-month rehabilitation program in 2014 in an effort to strike a balance between helping trainees earn and grow, with specialized services like domestic violence support, parenting classes and legal assistance that cost the organization $5.9 million, or 29% of its 2020 expenses. Participation has steadily grown over the past seven years, to 300 trainees in 2021 from 160 in 2014.


Ambitious plans

Over the past two decades, Homeboy has diversified its social enterprises to include merchandising, catering, farmers market pop-ups and brick-and-mortar eateries in locations like LA’s City Hall and LAX.
 
Boyle remains involved in Homeboy and is on the board of directors. Mental health professionals and social workers — as well as others in direct supportive roles such as legal, educational, substance disorder and tattoo removal services — comprise approximately 70% of the organization’s 110 staff members. Homeboy said almost 95% of the leadership team in its social enterprises — including supervisors, managers and directors — are former trainees.


By promoting them in those roles, Homeboy empowers trainees to repay and support the neighborhoods they came from, such as when the women of Homegirl Café proposed distributing food from the café’s storerooms when the pandemic shut down many Los Angeles businesses in March 2020. Homeboy subsequently launched Feed Hope, a meal service that to date has supplied more than 500,000 meals to seniors, children and the homeless in L.A. County.


Vozzo joined the company in 2012 with 26 years of corporate experience after retiring a year earlier from Aramark Corp., where he was executive vice president. He has employed for-profit practices to grow the nonprofit organization, like when the company acquired private business Isidore Recycling in 2017 and rebranded it Homeboy Electronics Recycling. Similarly, in 2020 the organization created the multimillion-dollar Homeboy Capital Venture Fund to invest in new businesses and create jobs for Homeboy Industries trainees.

 
Yet by concurrently developing partnerships with more than 350 like-minded organizations around the world in its Global Homeboy Network, the company has preserved its mission to help and heal formerly incarcerated individuals — all while making ambitious plans for Homeboy’s future, including a transitional housing project it’s set to break ground on in the second quarter of 2022 and complete in late 2023 for 18-month program trainees.

 
“We’re always sort of innovating to determine what does a person need to help move their life forward,” Vozzo said. “And to meet people where they’re at and help them heal and help them transform their pain — that’s our guiding principle.”


Homeboy Industries Timeline

1988: Founded by Father Greg Boyle (right) as a jobs training program called
Jobs For a Future.


1992: Homeboy Bakery
Jobs For a Future converted an abandoned warehouse for its operations and rebranded as Homeboy Bakery.

Headquarters: Chinatown
Founded: 1992
Business: Baked goods
Manager: Cynthia Zuno, director of bakery operations
Backstory: Homeboy Bakery opened in the wake of the Los Angeles riots, funded by Ray Stark and launched with the goal of giving job skills to gang members. Its first product was tortillas, which were produced in a refurbished warehouse across the street from the Dolores Mission Church where Father Greg Boyle first conceived of Homeboy. After opening Homeboy Tortillas in Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market, the bakery added bread to its offerings and landed a contract with a restaurant supplier.
Despite its growth, Homeboy has maintained its focus on people over profits: When the company was later offered a grant for an automatic dough mixer, founder Boyle declined because it would mean they would employ fewer people.

1994: Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery
Homeboy Industries' silkscreening enterprise is started by Rubin and Christina Rodriguez.
Headquarters: Downtown
Founded: 1994
Business: Custom screenprinting and embroidery
Managers: Ruben and Cristina Rodriguez
Backstory: The organization promotes itself with the mission statement, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery was initially created by Ruben and Cristina Rodriguez, who went to Boyle to offer to share their experience on how to run a silkscreening business.
Although it was initially bankrolled with assistance from Los Angeles radio station Power 106, Homeboy Industries’ second business, or “social enterprise,” soon became its biggest division. Its wares include creating custom T-shirts, tote bags, water bottles and more for corporations and nonprofits.

2005: Homegirl Cafe  
The first Homegirl Cafe opened on 1st Street downtown.
Headquarters: Chinatown
Founded: 2005
Business: Food service and culinary instruction
Manager: Mariana Henriquez, director of culinary operations
Backstory: Focusing on women enlisted as auxiliary gang members or who come from gang-influenced neighborhoods, the women-run Homegirl Café not only serves a variety of dishes made from farm-to-table ingredients but also offers training in culinary and social skills. For many employees, it’s their first job. Upon its opening, then manager and client Patricia Zarate designed the first menu from a collection of family recipes.
Through the company’s Feed Hope program, the café also served as an official voting center for the 2020 presidential election and worked with Homeboy Industries to supply food to workers at polling sites across the city.

2007: Homegirl Catering  
Homegirl Catering was founded.
Headquarters: Chinatown
Founded: 2007
Business: Food service and supply
Manager: Mariana Henriquez, director of culinary operations
Revenue: $800,000 (2019)
Backstory: An offshoot of the café, Homegirl Catering is a woman-run operation providing full-service catering for events with as few as 10 guests or as many as 1,000 or more, offering customized box lunches or a full menu served by the Homegirls.

2007: New headquarters opened on Bruno Street, along with the second Homegirl Café location.

2007: Homeboy/Homegirl Merchandise 
Homeboy Industries' merchandising operations launched.
Headquarters: Chinatown
Founded: 2007
Business: Retail merchandising for all of Homeboy Industries’ social enterprises
Revenue: $1.4 million (2019)
Backstory: Apparel and merchandise made up the second-largest source of revenue for Homeboy Industries, generating about $1.4 million in 2019. Merchandise is sold through the Homeboy Silkscreen & Embroidery business, the Homeboy store at the Bruno Street headquarters and online.

2010: Homeboy Groceries 
Homeboy Industries experienced financial difficulties stemming from the Bruno Street building purchase and had to lay off approximately 330 people. To help it rebound, the organization started licensing its brand on third-party food products as Homeboy Groceries.


2011: Homeboy Diner at LA City Hall
The Homeboy Diner was founded.
Headquarters: Downtown
Founded: 2011
Business: Food service and culinary instruction
Backstory: Homeboy Diner is the only food concession at City Hall. Grab-and-go items like sandwiches, salads and other items are produced at Homegirl Café and Homeboy Bakery.

2012: Homeboy Farmers Market
Homeboy launched its farmers market enterprise.
Headquarters: Chinatown
Founded: 2012
Business: Homeboy Bakery product sales and distribution
Backstory: Homeboy began offering its baked goods, salads and specialty items at a variety of farmer’s markets across L.A. The markets provide public-facing opportunities for Homeboy’s trainees to build skills and interact with customers outside the more familiar community surrounding the company’s enterprises.

2015: Headquarters expanded at the Bruno Street location to include the building next door.

2017: Homeboy Electronics Recycling 
Homeboy's electronics recycling enterprise launched after Homeboy Industries acquires Isidore Recycling.
Headquarters: Commerce
Founded: 2017
Business: Electronics recycling
CEO: Chris Zwicke
Revenue: $2.1 million (2021)
Backstory: In 2017, Homeboy purchased Isidore Electronics Recycling and rebranded it with the Homeboy name. The formerly for-profit business transitioned into a nonprofit, providing R2 (Responsible Recycling) practices, data security, device repair and other services to dispose of sensitive and potentially hazardous materials for corporate clients like Hewlett Packard. The enterprise also aims to tackle the growing volume of e-waste accumulating worldwide while offering jobs and technical training to Homeboy trainees.
Homeboy Electronics Recycling promises to create one new job for every 75,000 pounds of electronics collected. The enterprise expanded its operations in Commerce in July by consolidating two spaces into a leased 30,000-square-foot location.

2018: Homeboy Art Academy opened.

2019: Homeboy Industries Youth Reentry Center opened.

2020: Feed HOPE
Feed Hope launched. The enterprise started when the women of Homegirl Café came to management and proposed that food sitting around during the pandemic could be distributed throughout the community.
Headquarters: Chinatown
Founded: 2020
Business: Contract meal delivery service
CEO: Arlin Crane, vice president, Homeboy Industries Social Enterprises
Employees: 50
Revenue: $4 million (2020-2021)
Backstory: When Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 19, 2020, shelter-in-place order ground most of the state’s businesses to a halt, Homegirl Cafe launched this contract meal business on April 1 to fight food insecurity in local communities most severely affected by the shutdown.
By August the program was assembling 4,200 meals per day. It enabled the organization to retain 20 jobs that might have been lost to dipping revenues. The program added another 30 people in August 2020 so it could offer its own delivery service. The program has provided more than 500,000 meals to date.

August 2020: Homeboy Industries received the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, including
a $2.5 million award.

2021: Homeboy Industries received $15 million in funding from the state of California’s 2021-2022 budget to develop Homeboy’s

2022: Homeboy Industries is developing a $15 million transitional housing complex for individuals in its 18-month program, which was launched in 2012.

Keep reading the   2021 Philanthropy Special Report.

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