Virtual event focuses on connection between small businesses and homelessness

By Alex Hutton

“Stories from the Frontline” is a unique opportunity for people associated with homelessness to tell their stories. Whether they have experienced homelessness or worked to end it, their stories inspire strength and perseverance.

On Feb. 10, the 15th installment of the series, “Stories from the Frontline: Small Businesses,” was held in the form of a virtual event that highlighted a handful of small businesses in Los Angeles that do good work in the community.

The event took place on Facebook Live and was a joint production between the organizations “Stories from the Frontline,” Everyone in LA, and Inclusive Action for the City.

The livestream began with an introductory speech by emcee Rudy Espinoza, executive director of Inclusive Action for the City. In his opening comments, he highlighted the importance of small businesses to society.

“Without small businesses, we can’t have an economy,” Espinoza said.

The main portion of the event consisted of presentations from various small business owners and employees, who showed off their work in a variety of ways.

The first speakers were Larae Cantley, Zondre Johnson and Rhiannon Diaz, who were interviewed by Crissy Yancey of Everyone In LA.

Cantley, Johnson and Diaz have all been homeless in the past, and they now lead Lived Experience Life Consulting Co-Op, an organization for cultural change.

“We’ve been impacted by the way that systems leave people harmed,” Cantley said. “We wanted to help systems heal the harm.”

Andrew McDowell, founder of With Love Market & Cafe, talked about his store’s focus on sustainability and charity, and gave a video tour of the location.

Next up was Mark Loranger, president and CEO of Chrysalis, a company that helps individuals who face barriers to the workforce find and retain unemployment. Chrysalis has five locations, including Santa Monica and DTLA. Loranger spoke about the importance of having a job and touted his organization’s accomplishments. Specifically, he focused on how work is interconnected with other aspects of life.

“There are a lot of steps in the process of helping someone out of poverty and homelessness, and of course, housing is the first part of that puzzle,” Loranger said. “But having a job is right behind housing because, without the income and security of a job, it’s difficult to find and maintain a place to stay.”

Additional entrepreneurs and business owners spoke about their own companies. These included Jocelyn Ramirez of Todo Verde, a food business focused on providing healthy, cultural meals to East LA residents; and Tony Jolly of Hot and Cool Cafe, which runs a program that makes meals for seniors.

Urban Voices Project, which creates supportive community spaces with music to bridge vulnerable individuals to a sense of purpose and improved health, also performed “Walk with Me,” a protest song by Maggie Wheeler.

After Jolly, three more speakers from charitable organizations delivered remarks. They were Gabriela Solorzano of Everyone In, Miguel Lugo of Homeboy Industries and Elise Buik of United Way. Each of them discussed their outlet’s mission and work, and the impact they hope to make in society.

Lugo’s speech was especially noteworthy. He served 18 years in prison and was released in 2015. Shortly after his release, he went to Homeboy Industries in an effort to turn his life around. He talked about how Homeboy Industries helped him make these changes and now he helps others do the same.

“Here at Homeboy Industries, I’m able to work on my trauma,” Lugo said. “I’m able to work with other people through their trauma. Here at Homeboy Industries, we are the place that changes your life. This is the place that changed my life.”

Espinoza concluded the event by thanking the participants, organizations and companies that made it possible. He finished by emphasizing the importance of community: “I’m Rudy, and I am your neighbor.”    

For more information about “Stories from the Frontline”, visit storiesfrontline.org

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