Penn Serves LA at Homeboy Industries, Homegirl Café, and the Guadalupe Homeless Shelter

By Michelle Wattana, C’09

Following our January social, the Penn Serves crew launched into 2018 with a full day of service! Planned by our very own Ellie Hidalgo, C’87,  and Michal Clements, W’84, we started the day by touring Homeboy Industries, having a delicious lunch at the Homegirl Café, and finishing off by preparing dinner for the Guadalupe Homeless Project at the Dolores Mission Parish.

Homeboy Industries Tour

“Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” – Father Greg Boyle


HomeBoy Industries in downtown Los Angeles

We first gathered at the Homeboy headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. As we walked in, there were smiling faces everywhere and the atmosphere was bustling with a sense of optimism, hope, and productivity! We split off into two groups, headed by our phenomenal tour guides Garry and Omar, who are both working on completing the Homeboy program themselves. Kind enough to share their personal stories with us, Garry and Omar are so well-spoken, they could’ve passed as professional motivational speakers!

Founded by Father Greg Boyle and members of the Dolores Mission Church in 1988, Homeboy Industries is now the largest and most successful gang intervention and re-entry program in the world. Thousands of men and women have since walked through its doors, and this wonderful organization offers several programs to assist them in rehabilitation – it’s a holistic approach, offering resources for the healing of the mind, soul, and body. Programs cover areas including education, workforce development, mental health, legal services, substance abuse, domestic violence, and tattoo removal. To give some idea of the incredible time, energy, and work provided by the organization, Homeboy Industries had 35 volunteer physicians, some of whom are based across the country, perform 11,834 tattoo removal treatments for free in the last year alone!

Homeboy Industries also offers several social enterprises to foster workforce development, including electronics recycling, silkscreen and embroidery, Homegirl Café, a bakery, an online market (, catering, and groceries. At every turn, it was clear that the Homeboy and Homegirl programs were here to provide full care and support every step of the way, for its men and women looking to start a new chapter in life.

Lunch at Homegirl Cafe

Once we completed our tours, we headed into the Homegirl Café for a delicious lunch. We began with chips, salsa and guacamole, and our tables quickly filled with flavorful tacos, salads, and sandwiches.

Their website says it best – as one of Homeboy’s many social enterprises, Homegirl Café and Catering assists high-risk and formerly gang-involved young women, and a few young men, through an 18-month training program in restaurant service and culinary arts. Often times, this training serves as their first “real job”, as they learn to work alongside their former enemies and gain fundamental job skills in a supportive environment.

As you can see, our group enjoyed every bite! This fantastic café is a place where you can receive mouthwatering meals, baked goods, and support the empowerment of trainees and their families, all at the same time.

As we concluded our lunch, we reflected on how grateful we were for the chance to listen to Garry and Omar, feast on the delicious meals prepared at the café, and see for ourselves the incredible impact that the programs have on the community youth who need it most. Simply put, the Homeboy and Homegirl programs are a place to heal and find peace, offering the chance to begin again with open arms.

…and onto the Guadalupe Homeless Shelter!

Pumped up from the tour and well-fueled by lunch, the Penn Serves group then headed off to the Dolores Mission Parish to prepare dinner for the homeless community in Boyle Heights. The Dolores Mission Parish, established in 1925 for the underserved Spanish-speaking immigrants of the community, saw Jesuit priests arrive in 1980 to serve a neighborhood wrought by poverty and the effects of 7-9 gangs in the two-square-mile parish. Today, there are now only three gangs, some of which are inactive – a testament to the strength and perseverance of the parish and the surrounding community. And a fun Penn fact? Our very own Ellie Hidalgo, C’87, serves as Pastoral Associate for the parish’s church and school!

The Guadalupe Homeless Project (“GHP”) provides breakfast and dinner, as well as nightly shelter, to 45 men and 15 senior-aged women. Founded partly in response to those fleeing the Salvadoran Crisis, the men’s shelter first opened its doors in 1989, with the women’s shelter starting in 2015.  GHP and its volunteers also provide assistance through coordinating workshops, providing gently-used clothing, and helping with transitioning into emergency, transitional, or permanent housing.

On our tour of the grounds, we saw the communal gathering area, sleeping quarters (the light beds are stacked neatly every morning!), clothing center, nearby affiliated school, and of course, the church where members come for services and prayer. Beautifully decorated with Christian and Salvadoran motifs, we were reminded that the church has served as a healing ground for a community riddled with violence over the past decades. Sadly, many have lost at least one family member to incarceration or violence, and the church provides a place where families can receive hope, healing, and a sense of community together, in the face of hardship.

Following the tour, it was time for us to roll up our sleeves and prepare dinner. Our board members and volunteers alike spent the previous days preparing delicious foods in bulk for the evening meal. As diners came lining up, many of whom were fresh off a long day’s work and still in their uniforms, we served roasted chicken, salad, roasted potatoes, fresh fruit, desserts, and ice-cold beverages.


Once everybody had enough food, a few of us were able to sit down and chat with diners. To get to know who they are, hear their stories, and even listen to some songs from their homeland. All in all, it was a wonderful day of service for the Penn Serves community. We are so thankful to everyone who joined – onto the next!



Penn Serves LA volunteers at the Guadalupe Shelter


Click on these links for more information on Homeboy Industries and Father Greg Boyle’s bestselling books Tattoos on the Heart and Barking to the Choir.

Click for more information on the Dolores Mission Parish and the Guadalupe Homeless Project.

Listen to NPR’s Fresh Air host Terry Gross interview Father Boyle here.


Upcoming Events

About Penn Serves LA

Penn Serves LA logo volunteering with Penn Alumni in Los Angeles

Penn Serves LA impacts the Los Angeles community by engaging University of Pennsylvania alumni, parents and families in meaningful community service activities.

Since our founding in 2012, we have done everything from serving meals to the homeless to restoring the environment to fixing homes. Six times annually, we find another great opportunity to learn about interesting nonprofits, lend a hand and enjoy a fun experience with fellow alumni.

Join Us

We invite the Penn community in Los Angeles (alumni, parents, and kids) to join us at a future event, to help spread the word and to help us plan future activities. Join us, meet new Penn people, demonstrate what service means to your kids and friends, and help fellow Quakers make a little bit of difference in our complex city!

If you have an established nonprofit that you would like us to consider for future events or announcements, please let us know. We are looking for new nonprofits to serve in meaningful ways.

Contact Us

Questions? Want to join our email list? Reach us at

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The Penn Serves LA Team

Christine Belgrad, W’85, PAR’15 | Michal Clements, W’84 | Justin Gordon, W’05 | Jane Gutman, CW’73, PAR’14, PAR’16 | Leanne Huebner, W’90 | Jamie Kendall, W’04 | Irene Park, C’05 | Kiera Reilly, C’93 | Michelle Wattana, C’09 | Denise Winner, W’83, PAR’21

Read about our previous events:




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