First Lady Jill Biden tours Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles

Mario Lundes welcomed first lady Jill Biden to the Homeboy Industries bakery on Friday afternoon, eager — but nervous — to share his redemption story.

“It’s difficult, but if I can do it, so can they,” Lundes said.

For the past 11 years, he has worked for the renowned Los Angeles social enterprise that provides rehabilitation and re-entry services to thousands of formerly incarcerated and gang-affiliated people. It helped him find “light at the end of the tunnel” after serving time, said Lundes, who now works as a substance abuse disorder admissions coordinator.

“It was an honor to meet her and welcome her to the Homeboy Bakery,” he said. “I told her a little bit about what they do there.”

Biden’s visit was brief, stopping for a tour of the nonprofit’s bakery and cafe after speaking at a nearby fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee earlier in the afternoon, but she said she was glad she was there could reach.

First Lady Jill Biden speaks to people icing pastries at a bakery table.

Jill Biden’s tour of Homeboy Industries came years after then-Vice President Joe Biden visited the nonprofit in 2015. “There’s a relationship between the Bidens and homeboys,” said Emily Chapa, a case manager.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

“I’ve heard so much about this place,” Biden said after listening to stories from other “homies” and helping bake pastries. “All it takes is for one person to believe in you.”

President Biden visited the organization in 2015 when he was vice president, something Emily Chapa fondly recalled as she and others gathered outside the Homegirl Cafe in Chinatown to watch Jill Biden’s motorcade depart.

“I really think we have a friend in the White House,” said Chapa, who works in case management for the nonprofit. “You know about us; it feels like they respect what we do…. There is a relationship between the Bidens and the homeboys.”

Homeboy Bakery and Homegirl Cafe are two of Homeboy Industries’ sprawling social businesses focused on an 18-month rehabilitation program that helps people get back into the workforce with job training and full-services.

Founded by Father Gregory Boyle more than three decades ago, the non-profit organization now serves hundreds of trainees in Southern California each year.

“Homeboy really represents that hope that people can transform their lives and that the First Lady of the United States will come to us and be a part of our community… it’s just exciting for all of us here, especially our trainees,” he told Tom Vozzo, Managing Director of Homeboy Industries.

Homeboy is 90% privately funded, Vozzo said, but support from local and state governments can make a big difference. The nonprofit recently received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor aimed at assisting young people who have progressed through the criminal justice system, and the Biden administration recently made “incarceration for employment” a priority touted.

“They’re here trying to put more money into human resources development for people who have been previously incarcerated, and that’s the population that we serve,” Vozzo said. “A consistent set of government contracts will allow us to serve so many more people.”

Eugene Walker, Homeboy’s workforce development manager, told the first lady about mentoring others who are now going through what he has done and making the transition from prison through Homeboy’s training program.

“What’s the secret sauce? We’re building relationships,” Walker said of Biden. “We’ll pick you up where you are… Homeboy magic happens every day.”

Chapa wasn’t able to speak to Biden, but she said it still means a lot to her to know that the first lady came and heard from some of the “fringe folks” that Homeboy wanted to serve.

“The things that we stand for that stand in our mission,” Chapa said, “it’s nice to see some of those policies and beliefs represented by a president and people in those positions.” First Lady Jill Biden tours Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles

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