"In the entire county, there is not one zip code that does not have gangs, whose members of those gangs come here," said the Rev. Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. "Everybody came in sobbing, saying 'We love you,' 'We love this place,' 'This is more family than family.' We work here whether you pay us or not, but people have rent to pay and Pampers to buy."
Homeboy Industries' downtown L.A. headquarters will still remain open, but every staffer will work on a volunteer basis. The agency emphasizes that all regularly scheduled events including classes, support groups and meetings will continue as planned. The center will also continue to offer tattoo removal and counseling services.
On Friday morning Rev. Boyle held a somber meeting with all of the workers at Homeboy Industries.
"Our commitment is to keep this place alive. Is there another place in the county of L.A. where people with records and with a gang past can go and jump-start their lives? No, there isn't. I don't know another place," said Rev. Boyle.
From juvenile hall to a senior employee at Homeboy Industries, Louis Perez's life was turned around by the program, but now he faces the unemployment line.
"No one is saying that they're going go out there and commit a crime or go back to jail, but people need to support their families," said Perez.
The organization needs $5 million to keep their job training programs going.
"We're not going to lock our doors. We're not going to suspend services. We're going to somehow, as money comes in, we'll bring people back, but we just can't do it now," said Boyle.
Former gang members and other agency supporters are pleading for help. Workers even wrote a letter to Oprah Winfrey.
"There's people out there that will donate so much money for art work or the Hollywood sign, right? But for human beings, there is a lack of intention to help, so it hurts," said Perez.
Starting Friday, workers like Perez will gather at the agency's headquarters, volunteering by helping others apply for unemployment benefits.
AP contributed to this report.