Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin Champion Homeboy Industries' Mission to Reform Ex-Convicts

Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for Homeboy Industries
Lily Tomlin (left) and Jane Fonda

The 'Grace and Frankie' stars were supported by their co-stars Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston at the gala.

Jane Fonda attended the Homeboy Industries gala last year, and she was so inspired by the nonprofit’s mission to reform ex-convicts she knew she had to do something special for 2019.

“She was behind me and she whispered in my ear, ‘Jane Fonda here. I'm hosting this next year,’” Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, told The Hollywood Reporter. Fonda then told him that she was bringing her Grace and Frankie co-star Lily Tomlin along to host.

That is how Fonda and Tomlin became this year’s hosts for the Homeboy Industries Lo Maximo Gala that took place Saturday at the JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE in downtown L.A. Fonda made sure to invite her Grace and Frankie co-stars Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston as well; they sat front row, center.

Homeboy Industries is “the largest gang-intervention, rehab, re-entry program on the planet,” Father Boyle told THR. Because Homeboy Industries receives only 1 percent of its funding from the government, the nonprofit relies on donors and this annual fundraiser for the bulk of its funding. Last year’s gala raised $1.4 million and this year’s goal was $1.6 million.

The Grace and Frankie stars have long been associated with Homeboy Industries. Tomlin’s nephew Steve Buckingham is one of the “43 volunteer therapists” that provides therapy for its program members, Boyle said. Sheen has been a supporter of Homeboy Industries for almost 20 years. 

“I'm just enormously gratified to see it grow so exponentially and so inclusive,” Sheen told THR. When he first started with Homeboy, he said there were no Homegirls. Now Father Boyle’s transformational impact has expanded to include women, and Sheen admires Father Boyle for what he has achieved.

“He's a great inspiration. He's been one of my heroes for longer than I can remember,” Sheen told THR.

The gala began with Father Boyle leading a mass and sermon. Fonda and Tomlin took time to pose for pictures with fans before they took the stage to host the gala. Singer Trenyce (American Idol) performed during the gala, which honored two individuals helping to create a more compassionate justice system.

Governor Jerry Brown was honored for his contributions to criminal justice reform. Fabian Debora, a graduate from the Homeboy Industries program, was given the Homeboy Hero award for using art to heal those inside and outside of the prison system.  

“I provide art for healing [in] various spaces,” Debora said. “One of them is working in Tehachapi State Prison with the lifers, through ACTA, the Alliance of California Traditional Arts.”

Debora came to Homeboy Industries “while he was in trouble, then it really transformed his life,” CEO of Homeboy Industries Thomas Vozzo told THR. He stayed at Homeboy Industries for 10 years, graduating from the program, which taught him the healing power of art while also giving him the skills he needed to become a Homeboy director of substance abuse.

“I was an asset, someone who modeled what transformation could look like for many of those newcomers,” Debora said. After leaving the program, he became a successful artist that continues to use art to heal and reform.

Waterston seemed to be the only one of the four stars new to the Homeboy Industries gala, and he expressed his gratitude over being included.

“I really came because Lily and Jane invited us to come, but I am so grateful to be here,” Waterson said. “It's terribly moving and very beautiful the work that they're doing.”