09/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Homeboy Industries: Producing Hope

I founded Homeboy Industries in 1988 after I buried my first young person killed in our streets because of gang violence. My parish, the poorest in the city, was situated in the middle of the largest grouping of public housing west of the Mississippi. At the time, it was considered to have the highest concentration of gang activity in the country. Subsequently, I've buried 166 more young people because of these gang wars.

Though born in that particular community, Homeboy Industries is now the largest gang intervention program in the United States. Serving 12 thousand clients a year, 8 thousand gang members from 700 different gangs, we offer wrap-around, comprehensive services to those for whom hope is foreign. We offer mental health counseling, free tattoo removal (8000 patients), a charter school, job placement and training and every imaginable curricular offering from anger management to domestic violence to parenting. We run five businesses where enemy/ rival gang members work side by side with each other (Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Cafe, Homeboy Silkscreen, Homeboy/Homegirl Merchandise and Homeboy Maintenance). Many thousands of gang members have been trained during our two decades of operation. We got start in Boyle Heights, but now all of Los Angeles County.

Our services are more in demand now than ever and keeping our doors open is a struggle. Foundations have retreated as their funds have evaporated some. Though our businesses generate 3 million dollars a year (and climbing), we need to raise nearly 7 million each year to continue to provide our services.

In the "barrio," when there is an economic need, the homies throw a car wash. My 400 employees have suggested exactly this. So we have launched a "virtual car wash." We are seeking one million people to give ten dollars each to have their car "virtually" washed.

Gangs are born of a lethal absence of hope and hope has an address: 130 W. Bruno St. in Los Angeles, CA. 90012. For over twenty years, Homeboy Industries has chosen to stand with those on the margins and those whose burdens are more than they can bear; it stands with the poor and the powerless, with the easily-despised and the readily-left out. Homeboy Industries has chosen to stand with the "demonized" so that the demonizing will stop; it stands with the "disposable" so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.

Against such daunting odds, Homeboy Industries has always confronted the prevailing cultural myth that such efforts are a waste of our collective time. The prophet Jeremiah writes: "In this place, of which you say, 'it is a waste', ...there will be heard again, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness....the voices of those who sing."