ConnectOC Blog

The Power of Compassion

Posted by: Shelley Hoss on 12/23/2013
By Shelley Hoss

Originally published in the Orange County Register December 23, 2013.

The ConnectOC Blog is a place for sharing insight, information and examples of how Orange County residents, donors and nonprofits are working to build a brighter, stronger, more vibrant community.  We welcome you to share your thoughts by commenting below

Transforming lives through understanding, kinship and connection.

Gang member. Convicted felon. Parolee.

That’s what we might see.  But not Father Gregory Boyle, founder of L.A.’s Homeboy Industries. Father Boyle—or “G Dog” as he is known to his nearest and dearest—sees a life worth saving, and a soul hungry to know its worth.

Through Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the U.S., Fr. Boyle has dedicated his life to giving a second chance to those ready to choose a new path. As he puts it, “we’re not here to help those who need it… we’re here to help those who want it.”

Each year, Homeboy serves 12,000 formerly gang-involved men and women with programs to help them chart a constructive path for their future. Homeboy’s emergence as a multi-faceted social enterprise began when Fr. Boyle’s eager job seekers far outnumbered the employers willing to take a chance on them. So he did it himself. What began as Homeboy Bakery has grown into Homeboy Industries, including a silk screening business, a farmer’s market, Homegirl Café & Catering, and Homeboy eateries at Los Angeles City Hall and LAX.

What started it all, and what carries it forward, is Fr. Boyle’s fundamental belief that there are no lives worth less than others.  And that each of us is worth a hand up, if we’re ready to accept it. It’s what he calls kinship. In explaining his passion for this work, Fr. Boyle refers to the words of Mother Teresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

And so hearing Father Boyle speak at our foundation gathering last week struck a deep chord for me, both at this particular time of year and in this particular place—our community of deep and challenging contrasts.

Here in Orange County, prosperity and progress abound for many. But an alarming number of our children and families continue to struggle to meet even their most basic needs. We live in a county that is home to some of our nation’s greatest concentrations of both affluence and poverty. And in this place where we pride ourselves on ingenuity, innovation and entrepreneurialism, I wonder if those who are ready for a fresh start can find one when they need it most. 

This is why I am proud, passionate and driven about Orange County’s nonprofit sector. Having met with foundation and nonprofit leaders from across the country in my 27 years in this field, I would stack Orange County’s nonprofit community against anyone’s. I believe we have some of the most talented, visionary and dedicated nonprofit leaders in the nation, doing the kind of life-changing work that Fr. Boyle encourages right here in our community every day. 

If you aren’t connected with a local nonprofit yet, this is the perfect time to start.  Whatever your passion, whatever your interest, there is an organization that needs you—a place where you can make a difference in a way that will enrich your life at least as much as you will enrich someone else’s. You can start your search on Nonprofit Central. And if you can’t find something you love there, call us at the Orange County Community Foundation and we’ll help.

Father Boyle tells us to imagine a circle of compassion, and then imagine that no one—no one—is standing outside of that circle.  I can’t think of a more important message to contemplate as we gather our loved ones near, celebrate our many blessings, and ring in a New Year. 

May your circle of compassion grow just a little wider in the year ahead.
Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at

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