Transformation Stories

Dorene Macias: parenting and paying it forward

“I’m continually under construction,” says Dorene Macias of her journey at Homeboy Industries. “I even have a T-shirt that says that—but I don’t wear it to work.”

At her job as Homeboy’s Mental Health Administrator, Dorene is usually dressed stylishly and professionally in vintage wrap dresses or fitted slacks. Compliment her look and she’ll excitedly confide that she found a couple of the pieces at Homeboy’s “Clothing Closet” of donated items. She takes a similar full-disclosure approach to her work with clients.

She asks people who approach the mental health cubicle which agency referred them. If it’s the Department of Children and Family Services, she asks to see their “safety plan,” which outlines the courses and treatments parents must pursue in order to regain custody of their children.

“I say, ‘That looks just like mine,’” Dorene says. “I see that look in their eyes—of desperation.”

Dorene, whose face was shown in close-up in the opening credits of Orange is the New Black, can read the faces of others quickly. When clients learn that the woman on the other side of the counter once struggled like they did, she invites them to sit down with her, and she shares her story. Several years ago, she fell into a spiral of addiction, partially in response to the domestic violence she experienced in her relationship. She thought she was holding it together, but then DCFS showed up.

“I’ll never forget seeing the look on Daniel’s face when they took him from me,” she says.

But she’s clear about one thing: “So many people badmouth DCFS, but they’re not the enemy…. I tell people, ‘If you do what you need to, you can get your kid back. But you have to be accountable.’”

Dorene got clean, took anger management classes, participated in domestic violence and substance abuse groups, and saw a therapist at Homeboy.

“I learned I had a voice, and I learned to use it in a healthy way. I learned to ask for help,” she says.

When Homeboy had an opening for an executive assistant to the CEO, she let Homeboy leadership know she was interested in improving her computer and administrative skills. She got the job and joined Homeboy’s full-time professional staff. Nine months later, she applied for her current position in the Mental Health department.

Today she takes classes at East Los Angeles College with the goal of becoming a Certified Cognitive Behavioral Therapist.

“My classmates [in criminal justice and psychology classes] ask, ‘How does a person get to that point?’ I say, ‘I can tell you.’”

As anyone who has experienced trauma knows, transformation cannot be summarized by tidy before-and-after snapshots. Fr. Greg says: “Healing is messy and human and gut-wrenching and hilarious, and it is not a precise science.”

“I still hear the voices of fear and isolation,” Dorene says. “It’s an ongoing struggle, but I don’t allow it to hinder me. I’ve learned to call someone—a friend or my sponsor—and they’ll bring me back to reality.”

Dorene’s reality is looking bright these days: She hopes to transfer to a university, purchase a home, write her life story, and work as a parent mentor with DCFS, using her own experience to help other families. Her grandson graduated from eighth grade and already has multiple scholarships to a prominent private high school.

“He’s very intelligent,” Dorene says proudly. “Not just school-wise, but life-wise.”

Dorene knows a thing or two about the wisdom that transformation brings. She observes: “The cubicle I work in now is the same one I walked up to when I first came to Homeboy with that paper from DCFS.”


Janet Contreras: Connecting the Dots

Damond Johnson: “We Were at Homeboy for the Same Reason”

Connie Cordero: The Point of Doing Well

Miguel Avila: “I Don’t Want to Let Myself Down”

Erika Vargas: The Small Word That Means Everything

Brazil Jackson: “laugh a little harder, live a little longer”

Marcus Avery: “It’s Family”

Orsy Jerez: Finding an Open Door

Valerie Copeland: “Homeboy is a place where it is ok to be myself”

Will Lopez: “I’ve had my second chance here—and my third, and my fourth”

James Horton: Compassion in Action

Victor Key: A Chance at Happiness

Gordy Abriel: Stepping Into a Brighter Future

Christy Stillwell: From Victim to Advocate

Javier Chavez: Mind, Body, and Spirit

Carlitos Asegura: Who are we? Homeboys! How long will we run? Forever!

Javier Medina: Made from Scratch

David Andrade: “Do it for yourself”

Brandy Harris: “Recognize who you are”

Ruth Butler: “Now I love my life”

Hoang Pham: “Homeboy is my home”

Rasheena Buchanan: “You can’t get this kind of love anywhere else”

Glenda Alvarenga: Hungry for Empowerment

Jermaine Smith: “There’s nothing else like this”

Pedro Mata: Working for a Better Life

Eugene Walker: An Advocate for Positive Living

George Nunez: Being the Father He Never Had

Mariana Enriquez: A Moment of Clarity

Amie Zuniga: How an Accidental Transformation Led to a Life of Purpose

Lami Glenn: “Their generosity is what drives me”

Evan Hess: Father’s Day, every day

Dorene Macias: parenting and paying it forward

Juan Marquez: Constructing Confidence

Gabriel Lopez - Two generations in gangs, two generations of change

Jose Arellano - Lost and found