Homeboy Global Network Gathering brings together agents of change from around the world

Homeboy Global Network Gathering

Attendees at the Homeboy Global Network Gathering.

We attended the 2019 Homeboy Global Network gathering for the fourth time earlier this month. The sixth annual event brought together 320 attendees from 85 organizations, seven countries, 30 states and 72 cities.

Six years ago, Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles decided to create a network that would bring together nonprofit change agents from around the world and encourage them to take aspects of  Homeboy Industry’s program back to their own communities. And that network gets together every August. During the two-day event members can share ideas, learn best practices and get to know each other.

Why we became involved in the Homeboy Global Network

We’ve been impressed by Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang rehabilitation and reentry organization, for many years, so when we first heard about the gathering we decided to attend. And we’ve kept going back.

“The reasons we attend the Homeboy Global Network Gathering are many. A key reason, however, is that we want to get together with people who are working with the same population we are. We want to learn as much as we can to improve our core work — serving those coming out of prison by being a resource for their healing and for their success in adjusting to life on the outside,” says Mark Drevno, Jails to Jobs founder and executive director. “At the gathering, there were people from around the world. We wanted to see what they are doing and learn from their successes and mistakes. It’s good for us to share our successes and mistakes, as well. It’s a process that can help us improve our offering just that much faster.”

The Homeboy Global Network Gathering consisted of two days of workshops given by Homeboy and other HGN members. Topics ranged from partnering with other organizations and fundraising to creating a social enterprise and establishing healthy communities. Panel discussions and technical support sessions were also offered. Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy’s charismatic founder, delivered opening and closing remarks and was participating and available throughout the gathering.

Impressive HGN members

Some of the HGN member organizations we were particularly impressed with:

  • Astanza Laser – a laser equipment supplier that generously extends substantial discounts with special pricing on both equipment and service contracts to nonprofits that offer free or low-cost tattoo removal. Three of the four– and the newest – machines Homeboy owns are Astanza.
  • The Other Side Academy – a vocational training school for people age 18-64 in Salt Lake City with a two-year program that some students attend instead of being incarcerated.
  • Mod Pizza – a second-chance employer with more than 400 locations across the U.S. and in the U.K.
  • Our Father’s Table – a San Capistrano, Calif., faith-based organization that gets to know the homeless people in the community and guides them to the services they need.
  • Generation Diamond – an Omaha-based organization that helps youth find purpose in their lives and reach their full potential.
  • Underground Grit – a nonprofit organization in Orange, Calif., that promotes change in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities by providing innovative services within institutions and to those in reentry.
  • Project 180 turns lives around through innovative, wraparound services that keep people out of jails and prisons and in their communities.
Father Greg inspires attendees

Beyond the organizations and the workshops, however, was the presence and inspiration of Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. Being with him and hearing his teachings is the main reason we attend, according to Drevno.

“You leave there with a lot of hope and feeling revitalized,” he says. “Through his storytelling and sense of humor, Father Greg had many beautiful ways to remind us of what’s most important. And what’s most important is that you need to lead with your heart and that we belong to each other.”

Father Greg Boyle

In his closing remarks, Father Greg tells the gathering that:

“We are always on the lookout for the hidden wholeness that’s been there all along. Unshakable goodness. We help each other find our way home to have full and free access to our own undeniable goodness, our essential dignity. It is never in question, only our access to it.

In our Network, it is never about choosing. It’s about finding. If damaged people damage people, and if traumatized people cause trauma, then people who have experienced love and tenderness will extend that into the world. We believe all of us that cherished people will cherish people and in this we all inhabit our own mystical dignity. So this is the truth of who you are as we leave our time together. You are mystics, and you have chosen to speak the whole language. Don’t stop. May you continue to be fluent in extravagant tenderness.

Members look ahead

The Homeboy Global Network is sold out every year, and we feel that it would be nice if it could be more than an annual gathering. As a start, a private LinkedIn group for members was proposed. This group  will hopefully provide a common forum for conversation and offer a chance to get to know other member organizations. That way, we can all continue to learn from each other and improve what we do to further encompass the ideals of Father Greg.

Group of Kentucky friends creates free tattoo-removal program for ex-offenders

Tattoo Removal Ink

Armando Diaz of Astanza Laser’s New Look Laser College trains Tattoo Removal Ink volunteers to do tattoo removal procedures.

Thanks to the free and low-cost tattoo removal program directory on our website, we’ve been in touch with quite a few people who provide this service.

But rarely have we come across a story quite like that of Jo Martin of Florence, Ky. She rallied a group of friends, got them all to learn how to use a laser device and started Tattoo Removal Ink, a free tattoo removal service, all within the space of a year.

Now it’s up and running – the group performed 100 free procedures from mid-January to mid-February, their first month in business. And she’s still a bit in awe about how it all came about.

Three-and-a-half years ago after retiring from a 30-year career with AT&T and still dealing with the sudden death of her husband several years before that, Martin was approached by a woman at her church and asked if she’d like to tutor at the local jail.

“I wanted to say no, but yes came out of my mouth,” she says. At first it was rather daunting. “I was never exposed to that kind of environment and had never even been inside of a jail.”

Once she began volunteering, Martin was shocked to see the tattoos on some of the inmates and thought, “How could they get a job with those tattoos on their face?” She mentioned it to a friend, and that friend encouraged her to go hear Father Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest who heads up Homeboy Industries and who was speaking at a university not too far away.

Inspired by Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries

She approached Father Boyle after his speech, and he invited her to come to Los Angeles to check out Homeboy, and she did. ”I fell in love with what Father Boyle was doing and said we could do it too,” she says.

Martin went home, put together a board, and filed the articles of incorporation and the application to be a nonprofit. Within 35 days it had been approved. Her daughter’s mother-in-law, a doctor, agreed to be the medical director.

A deeply religious woman who attends mass everyday, Martin feels it’s the work of God. “Every time I said to God that I’d done something, he gave me an even bigger thing. It all just started falling into place.”

She took some of the insurance proceeds from her husband’s death and bought a $60,000 laser device. (Astanza Laser gave her a $15,000 discount on one of its machines.) A doctor friend and his wife, a nurse, along with another nurse agreed to join the board. She also got a CPA to volunteer.

Martin put Tattoo Removal Ink together on her own with friends and family

“Along the way I met with a whole bunch of agencies in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky – all people who deal with returning citizens,” Martin says. “Everybody loved the idea, but nobody wanted anything to do with it. I just did it on my own with friends and family and my husband’s money. He would have loved it.”

She gathered her group of two doctors, two nurses, two other friends and herself together, adopted the name Tattoo Removal Ink, and in early January a representative of Astanza Laser’s New Look Laser College arrived to conduct a two-day training course. Soon after that, they began their first official procedures in a 900 square-foot rented office space.

Service is by appointment only and comes through referrals from the jail, parole and probation, and inquiries on their website, which have dramatically increased thanks to publicity from a local television news story. The criteria for clients is that they must have been formerly incarcerated, and their tattoos must be on the face, neck or sometimes on an arm – if the person has a construction job and will wear T-shirts in the summertime.

Plans for pre-release tattoo removal programs in local prisons

The program is up and running, but the fundraising is still in the works. Expenses include $1,000 per month for rent, $600 per year for insurance and $6,000 per year for maintenance on the laser device (starting next year).

Board members have chipped in money for the rent and $10,000 for operations. Another board member donated $1,000, and other people have written checks for $250 here and there, says Martin. The hospital of one of the doctors on her board donated a treatment table.

Martin has applied for $5,000 grants from each of her three local counties and is planning to search for other grant opportunities.

By the end of the year she hopes to begin tattoo removals inside the jail where she volunteers. And one of her grade school classmates, who learned about the program through Facebook, plans to retire and be a laser technician at the jail.

The next step is to get lasers inside the area’s two other correctional facilities and start a GED program at the building where Tattoo Removal Ink operates. That way people can study for the GED and get their tattoos removed at the same time and place, which appeals to Martin who tutors inmates so they can pass the GED.

While she originally was hesitant to even enter a jail, working with inmates and returning citizen’s tattoos has become Martin’s passion and new purpose in life.

“This has been so much fun. I love project managing it. And I love the people we’ve been taking tattoos off of,” she says.

Global Homeboy Network Gathering scheduled for August

Global Homeboy Network

The Global Homeboy Network Gathering in L.A. in August will include optional tours of Homeboy Industries facilities.

The third annual Global Homeboy Network Gathering will take place August 7-9, 2016, at The California Endowment in Los Angeles.

The event attracts about 200 people each year from throughout the U.S. and around the world who have been inspired by Homeboy Industries in their own work and organizations.

The Network, which now includes more than 85 organizations, was created with the first conference in 2014 to help other organizations spread the Homeboy model to locations beyond Los Angeles.

This year’s gathering will begin with a welcome reception at the Homegirl Café late Sunday afternoon. The next two days will include workshops on such topics as social entrepreneurial programs and development, fundraising and development, peer navigation and membership, and identity and re-identification.

Hotel rooms have been blocked at the Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel and Doubletree by Hilton on South Los Angeles Street and listed under “Homeboy Industries.”

Those interested in participating in the gathering can register on the Homeboy Industries website.

The cost to attend is:

  • $150 for those who register before June 24
  • $200 for those who register between June 25 and July 22
  • $225 late registration between July 23 and August 1

Founded in 1988 by Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who still runs the organization, Homeboy Industries is considered one of the world’s largest and most successful reentry and gang intervention programs. It operates a variety of social enterprises including a bakery, café, silkscreen and embroidery business, and a diner at Los Angeles City Hall.