Every gift made to Homeboy Industries assists and helps to
provide hope for an individual seeking a second chance.
Tribute & Memorial gifts are an excellent way to remember a
loved one or to celebrate a special occasion in someone’s life.
Your gift will make a positive impact in the lives of many
formerly gang involved.
Erika Vargas read Fr. Greg Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart, while she was incarcerated. Like many who encounter his humorous and heart-wrenching parables about unconditional love for hardened gang members, Erika found herself in tears.
“My roommate was like, ‘Are you getting soft on me?’ Then she read it and cried too.”
Erika’s family introduced her to a life of crime at a young age. At a time when most people are thinking about college or a career, she already had children to support and a criminal record. After she got out of prison, she came to Homeboy Industries and enrolled in the GED prep program. From there she joined the 18-month Job Training program, which she is now a year into.
Homeboy’s team of therapists, case managers, and peer mentors (called Navigators) form a secure base that allows trainees to grow and discover their true selves. One of the first people Erika connected with was her Navigator, Janet.
“Janet told me her story [of being incarcerated and then choosing a different life], and she said, ‘If I can do it, you can do it—you can do whatever you want,’” Erika recalls.
With that seed of confidence, Erika began her transformation. She works as an assistant to Homeboy’s Director of Personal Development, and she has been working with a cohort of fellow trainees to become a certified Wildland Firefighter with the National Forest Service. The process is grueling. Participants must complete 40 hours of classroom instruction and field work, hiking for hours at a time with a 45-pound backpack and all their tools.
“My self-esteem went from zero to 100,” she says. “I feel much stronger now. I’m more toned. And the structure has been really good for me.”
Erika took charge of making sure everyone in the cohort got all their paperwork in, completed the required physicals, and was outfitted with proper equipment. At first she refers to herself as the team’s secretary, but then she corrects herself: She is the crew manager.
“Once we hit that fire, our lives depend on each other,” she says. “I never had a trusting relationship before.”
This is the heart of Homeboy’s work: helping people who never had anyone they could rely on, least of all themselves, to feel unconditional love for the first time. Once they’ve experienced it, they inevitably want to pay it forward. Erika hopes to help future fire crews through the training process. Her long-term goal is to work with youth, so she can tell them the words she always longed to hear when she was a kid.
“I want to tell them that it’ll be okay even when nothing seems okay,” she says. “‘Love’ is such a small word, but it means everything.”