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This story is part three of a storytelling project with Homeboy Industries. We talked with Homeboy Founder and best-selling author Father Greg Boyle in the first installment, and CEO Tom Vozzo in the second installment.
Former day-time talk-show host Conny Caruso Hutchinson has a knack for noticing people.
When Conny began volunteering at Homeboy Industries, the nation’s largest gang rehabilitation program, a quiet young homie named Benjamin made a lasting impression. She saw how hard he was working at getting his life on track. Through notes and holiday cards and casual conversations, Conny expressed her admiration.
Something about this 87-year-old force of nature taking the time to encourage her husband touched Laura Abaroa, who works at Homegirl Café, one of Homeboy’s social enterprises. At first, she urged Benjamin to reach back out to Conny, but soon realized he didn’t yet have the emotional capacity to respond. Unwilling to leave Conny’s kindness unanswered, Laura took matters into her own hands.
Laura might have just seen Conny as a nice lady who volunteers at Homeboy occasionally.
But she felt something more.
Father Gregory Boyle, Homeboy Industries Founder, calls that felt sense, that relational stirring “radical kinship.”
“The measure of our compassion,” Father G writes in Barking to the Choir, “lies less in our service of those on the margins, and more in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them. It speaks of a kinship so mutually rich that even the dividing line of service provider/service recipient is erased. We are sent to the margins NOT to make a difference but so that folks on the margins will make us different.”
They took tentative steps toward each other.
In this clip, Laura describes the courage it took to be vulnerable with Conny, “that’s when [our relationship] changed. When I became willing to get to know her too, and invite her to meet my children and things like that.”
Swapping marriage tips, sharing In-N-Out Burgers, holding each other up in times of doubt. It’s clear they’ve taken to heart Greg’s advice to “receive, listen and value people until they come out with their hands up, feeling, perhaps for the first time, valuable. Receiving them and allowing yourself to be reached by them is all that’s asked us of.”
As you’ll hear in the full conversation on our podcast, both Conny and Laura have endured more than their fair share of trauma, fought addiction, and suffered devastating loss.
Sitting with these women, we got swept into the vastness of their mutual love. True community does that. We got invited into the widening circles of compassion, just for showing up. Real belonging trades judgment at how we carry our loads for awe that we must carry it.
Two women recognized themselves in their shared brokenness and decided to live in each other’s hearts. A perfect example of what Greg calls “exquisite mutuality, lightening up the whole sky.”
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring changemakers over 50. It’s created in partnership with Encore.org‘s Generation to Generation campaign, which connects older adults to kids who need champions. We are so grateful for their invitation to capture these stories at Homeboy Industries.