Nothing stops a bullet like a job: Homeboy Industries and the gangs in L.A.

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The recession leaves many people in a financial gridlock. Individuals feel the pressure to secure their finances, and some may resort to unlawful activities to make ends meet.

With this thought, Southern California is an interesting area to study because it has been in a recession longer than the rest of the nation.

With nearly 40% of immigrants to California settling in Los Angeles, the rise in population combined with a growing number of poor people with little choices causes cultural tension. Gang violence can grow out of that tension.

In 2007, there were an estimated 700 gangs active with a combined population of 40,000 members. Compare that to an estimated 15,000 gang members in 2002, and it becomes clear that the city is in the midst of a gang crisis.
Due to the wave of gang violence, residents of South Central LA live in fear. Violence ranging from car theft, murders, fights, and shootings, leave many city dwellers with a story to tell. In March, NPR interviewed some local witnesses who provided a glimpse into what life is like in South Central LA.

One story that struck me was a shooting near an elementary school which left some children with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental illness that is commonly found among survivors of war or a violent event such as 9/11.

To combat this issue, local authorities in LA have set up gang units. After making several arrests and cracking down on the removal of illegal drugs and guns, these gang units are removed when authorities believe the situation is "under control."

This is determined when there are fewer complaints by residents, and a decrease in violence. However, when the gang units leave, the gangs return to the area. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, gang crimes cost LA taxpayers $2 billion each year. This sort of "Catch me if You Can" approach leaves residents with little hope of a solution.

Many people in LA have lost trust in local authorities. The NPR article states that it often takes hours for police to respond to a neighborhood emergency due to gang violence. Because of this, some occupants in southern LA have taken matters into their own hands.

Meet Father Greg Boyle, a former pastor of Dolores Mission Church. In the early 1970s he was nearly killed while trying to break up street gun battles in Boyle Heights. This physical prevention along with providing emotional support for families through his church service lasted for about 16 years. In 2002, as the LA gang crisis worsened, Father Boyle was convinced that the violence overload weakened the LAPD and the local government failed to tackle the root causes, which include job creation.

Most kids in their late teens find themselves in the "real world" and thus feel the pressure to financially support themselves. Unfortunately, some LA teens choose to enter the "fast life" by joining a gang.

Keep in mind that a bad economy has a major impact on continuing gang violence. When a gang member is released from prison, they have very few options and lack the support needed to move forward in life. With less motivation, many former gang members return to the "fast life" and interrupt the city's recovery process, with violence.

To prevent this from happening, Father Boyle first launched Jobs For a Future (JFF), where he helped to create an elementary school and daycare. He also assisted residents, many of whom were former gang members, in finding jobs.

In 1992, Father Boyle started Homeboy Industries, the nation's largest gang intervention program, with a mission to allow former gang members and LA youth to work side by side and gain experience as an employee. Members of Homeboy work in various enterprises including Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy Maintenance, Homeboy/Homegirl Merchandise, and HomegirlCafé.

In addition to job training and employment, members receive educational assistance from local teachers who volunteer to teach English, math, computer use, and even poetry. Homeboy is also using federal stimulus money to train for green-collar jobs.

To ensure that Father Boyle's non-profit venture serves the community, Jorja Leap, an adjunct professor of Social Welfare at UCLA, has volunteered to study the program's effectivenessin terms of the impact on the individual members of Homeboy Industries.

Leap's focus, she has said, is on qualitative results rather than quantitative. Being that Homeboy Industries affects the lives of a select group of individuals, taking a social approach when evaluating is important. She hopes to work with Father Boyle to find a way to make this program sustainable for years to come.

This year marks Homeboy's 20th Anniversary, and Father Boyle has launched an Internet campaign asking for one million people to donate $10 to help the program continue.

To help spread the news about Homeboy Industries, WalletPop, Philanthropy Project, and Good News Now have linked up within the AOL Network.
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