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  • Writer's pictureLiz Duerholt

Redefin'd joins the Global Homeboy Network

We are proud to announce that Redefin'd has become a member of the Global Homeboy Network.

On April 11th Yasmeen and I escaped the snow and headed to California for a two-day mentoring session with Homeboy Industries. Headquartered in Los Angeles, the gang capital of N. America, Homeboy "helps formerly gang involved and the previously incarcerated, by offering hope, training and job skills. Homeboy Industries is the largest and most successful gang intervention, rehab, and reentry program in the world and has become a model for other organizations and cities."

What their mission statement doesn't mention, is that their approach is based on kindness, acceptance and a client lead approach to recovery. This is the vital element to their success, and it's a feeling that you'll sense when you walk through their doors. It's a palpable sense of connectedness and community.

The second significant mention is that they own and operate 10 social enterprises from food production and bakery to silkscreen and solar panel installation. Some of the operations are on-site at Homeboy Headquarters and others are offsite but nearby. They use these enterprises as work therapy. They "make bread to employ homeboy's, they don't employ Homeboys to bake bread". That about sums it up. The focus is on people, not on profit.

Homeboy is a Registered Non-profit in the U.S., seeking donor funding for its operations however, their social enterprises do contribute a considerable amount to their bottom line. In 2016, their operating budget was just over $16.5M with $6M in revenue coming from their multiple social enterprises. At any given time they employ 150-200 trainees in these enterprises.

Our trip to Homeboy was an opportunity to dive deep into their 18-month program. We wanted to know how they manage the intake process for new trainees, what services they provide, how the various departments in Homeboy work together to support individuals and how they monitor outcomes.

Alison Lass, the lovely manager of all things Global Homeboy Network, promised to schedule us with as many people as possible to meet our needs and she didn't disappoint. Our brains were full to the brim by Thursday afternoon.

Our first stop on the trip was a tour of the Homeboy Headquarters. Carlos was our tour guide, he is a current trainee in the program with 9 months under his belt. He's a young Dad that entered the program with a background of abuse and no trust in anyone. He started at Homeboy at first because of the honest pay cheque, but slowly he began to see that it was for real. People here cared and it was more about having the safe space to work on themselves.

As part of the tour, we got to see their in-house Homeboy bakery in action.

Next, we met with Fajima, Theresa and Mary from the Mental Health team and they discussed the importance of consistency in relationships so that trainees can find safety in the program and build trust. The Mental Health Team is constantly keeping complex trauma in mind to decrease pressure in trainees lives, because they already have enough of that. One way they've found to ensure the personal connection is maintained with trainees is a program they call Secure Base. It's a way for the support team to meet individually with each trainee to slow down and learn from each other. These meetings are trainee lead and are meant as a personal visit and guidance.

Another integral component of the program is what Homeboy calls the Navigator. These individuals are graduates of the program that have joined the Homeboy staff as peer mentors. We had the opportunity to share lunch with Robert, the Homeboy senior navigator and his teammate Inez. They explain their role as the first touch point for trainees entering Homeboy. Considering themselves the feet of the organization, their job is to work side-by-side and supervise groups of up to 10 trainees building close personal relationships as they follow them through the 18-month rehabilitation process. They explain that every trainee starts with site maintenance to teach humility and this includes cleaning the bathrooms at headquarters and the streets of their adjacent community, Chinatown.

Los Angeles Chinatown in bloom

In the afternoon, we met with Fabian, Director of Substance Abuse, to discuss the 18-month process in depth. Their focus is really to get to the core of substance abuse, because healing is what brings stability. It's about giving these ex-gang members what they don't expect, an opportunity. At Homeboy this is a delicate balance between giving trainees a job and providing them space for the internal work they need to do. For the process to work he stressed that you have to first know their story and build relationships. Their process is focused on the individual and it can't be rigid.

Our most significant take away from the first day was relationship. Most of the staff and leadership that we met with were graduates of the Homeboy program and they all told a story of relationship building, trust and safety. It's at their core and it's the ingredient that makes what they do a success. They are committed to working with people as they are when they come through the door, without judgement or a desire to save them. It's about acknowledging and working alongside each person as they work through their own healing process.

At the end of the day we were ready for a decompress. As we headed down Sunset Blvd to our Airbnb we passed a lovely little urban garden right beside our bus stop. Inside was a solar powered aquaponics system, a chicken coop and garden beds of artichoke, fennel, lettuce, citrus trees and poppies.

This Sunset Blvd. urban garden was enough to make any Northern gardener jealous.

Liz Duerholt

Founder and Executive Director


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