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Where Angels Get Their Wings - A Staff Reflection

Scranton students and co-chaperones (Todd Parry and Alex Maier) with Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., and homies.
January 16, 2018
By: By Alexandra Maier

“You stand with the least likely to succeed until success is succeeded by something more valuable—kinship.” – Gregory Boyle, S.J.

I’m sitting at my desk attempting to get back into the groove of reality and work after returning from one of the most inspiring and eye-opening weeks of my entire life. In all honesty, it’s really difficult to concentrate with flashbacks of moments throughout the week entering my mind. This past week I co-chaperoned a domestic service trip to Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles with 10 absolutely incredible University students. Words cannot do this experience justice but I will give it my best shot. Basically what I’m saying is: 1. If you’re an employee, you need to go on this trip and 2. If you’re a student (first, kudos for reading Royal News), you need to go on this trip.

“Welcome to Homeboy — where angels get their wings,” Matthew, a former gang member and ex-convict, covered in tattoos from head to toe (literally), said to us with a huge smile as he opens the door to Homeboy Industries for our group. Matthew is just one of many homies and homegirls that greeted us with an ear to ear grin throughout the week. We talked to so many homies and homegirls, that I now consider my friends, with stories you would not believe. Some kicked out on the streets at just 6 years old, selling guns and drugs by the age of 9, sent to prison by the age of 14 (and tried as an adult); some still on parole after spending 36 years in prison; some who just got out of prison last week and stumbled through the doors of Homeboy for a fresh start and second, third fourth, or even fifth chance. Homeboy really does give these amazing individuals, who have been through hell and back, their wings. Through the 18-month program, they are able to become contributing members of society again, or for the first time in their life.

The first day, I remember feeling in the way, and looking around at how uncomfortable (myself included) the students looked. We were totally out of our element. By day three, we had completely immersed ourselves at Homeboy. We made friends, we helped out with tutoring — many homies and homegirls were working on their high school diplomas or working toward their GED. Robert, one of our friends, never finished third grade. We observed classes on combatting violence and abuse. We hugged and exchanged personal stories.

Seeing the students’ transformation was stunning. I will never forget being back at our rental house one night hearing one of the students on the phone with her dad saying, “You don’t know his story. You don’t know how he ended up there, what kind of life he was born into. He’s a person just like us.” She was arguing with her Dad about Daniel, a very popular homie among our group. He served more than 30 years in prison for a gang-related murder. He was the biggest teddy bear, filled with love and life advice. Hearing this conversation immediately brought tears to my eyes. See, this is what kinship is all about. Like Fr. Greg told us: “There is no us and them — just us.”

Our last day at Homeboy, I got a call from my friend who was watching my dog, Mae. Mae had run away the night before and had still not come back. If you’re reading this and know me, you know I am a total dog lover — my dogs are my children. Hearing this news and being 3,000 miles away, utterly helpless, was debilitating. I walked into the music therapy class we were observing that day, sobbing, snot dripping down my face. Brandon and Brittany, two of my new friends, immediately came up to me and hugged me. Brandon put his sweatshirt sleeve out for me to blow my nose, and, without thinking twice, I did. Homies and homegirls continued to comfort me and pray that Mae would show up. If this does not portray boundless compassion or radical kinship, I don’t know does. Here I am, this short white, blonde chick sobbing about my lost dog to people who have been homeless, in and out of incarceration. Their stories are incredible: friends and family members have been shot or stabbed and died in their arms, far “worse” things than a lost dog. Even so, not once did I feel silly for crying to them. They were my friends. That’s all we saw in each other. I needed comforting and that’s what I received.

I will never forget my journey at Homeboy Industries. It’s one that I will forever cherish and hold close to my heart. And, just to reiterate, you really should go too.

P.S.: If you are wondering about Mae she was found on Sunday evening, alive and well, after being tangled around a fence for four days. Miracles happen.

 

The group:

Brian Dauer ’20
Grace Donnelly ’20
Katie Donnelly ’20
Regina Fasano ’18
Cory Freivald ’20
Niamh Girdusky ’20
Madie Grant ’20
Carly Kreitzer ’20
Delia Gavin ’18
Katie Allen ’18 Peer Facilitator
 
Todd Parry (HVAC) Co-Chaperone
 
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Alexandra Maier is the University's assistant director of annual giving.
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