The men are at work by 6 most mornings, mixing dough with antiquated equipment left behind by a Czechoslovakian baker who ran his operation next to the Dolores Mission for more than 25 years.
The bakers sport tattoos declaring love for their mother or a girlfriend, and many claim affiliation with one of the many street gangs that populate their Pico-Aliso neighborhood. But rather than devoting all of their time to running with gangs, they bake pumpernickel and rye bread from the old baker's recipes and distribute the loaves to his former clients, delis in the Fairfax District and markets in Santa Monica and Van Nuys.
"I never really had a job before," said Mario Martinez, 22, as he rearranged loaves in an old steam box that helps the dough rise.
Martinez is one of six young men employed at the Homeboy Industries bakery, the latest small business operated by the Mission's Jobs for a Future Program. It opened the Homeboy Tortilleria last year at Grand Central Market in Downtown, where eight young people from the Boyle Heights neighborhood are employed. They earn $5 to $7 an hour, which is funded from proceeds from sales.
"It's clear that this is a skill-training thing," said Father Tom Smolich, who oversees the programs. "After a number of hours, a guy would be an apprentice baker and would know the mixing and baking and all the steps. We could place them at bakeries with good jobs."
The jobs program has also arranged for 10 people to work as medical assistants at White Memorial Medical Center starting this week. And a gardening service that operates out of the mission with three employees hired through the program is always seeking clients.
But the jobs secured through the program--mostly clerical, sewing and warehouse work--come at a much slower pace than the people seeking them out, said job developer Eduardo Urrutia. The program, started in 1989 when mothers from the parish marched through the neighborhood knocking on the doors of businesses to plead for jobs for their children, has placed about 50 people, with 200 more on a waiting list. If an employer cannot pay the full salary, it is paid for by the church.
"I receive 25 phone calls a day from people who ask, 'Do you have something for me?' " Urrutia said.
He advises the callers to seek out employment on their own, giving hints on how to present themselves to business owners. Meanwhile, he calls businesses daily to find openings for the mostly young adults like Martinez who have never held a job before.
And when Urrutia does find something, that is usually just the first hurdle. Many times, the job seekers do not have transportation or bus fare if the job is not in the immediate area. Other times, he will send someone to a job only to find out that a rival gang member works there, thwarting that job prospect. Sometimes, the people on his waiting list would endanger themselves simply by showing up for work if the jobs are in rival gang territories.
"It's difficult," Urrutia said.
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