Father Gregory Boyle has run a gang intervention program in downtown Los Angeles for decades. When he speaks to Dallas CASA’s Cherish the Children virtual event May 14, he’ll share wisdom he’s gained about making a difference one child at a time. Father Boyle shared some initial thoughts with Dallas CASA in this interview.

You often write about moments that happen between a “homeboy” and you – a conversation, a meal shared, etc. Tell us about the power a single person can have on the life of a child or youth. Can one person really make a difference?

We often ask ourselves…what will I do at the margins? But the real question is “What will happen to me there?” If I go to the margins to make a difference, then it’s about me. It can’t be about me. But if I go the margins so that the folks there reach me and alter my heart, then it’s about us. It feels passive, but it isn’t. If we go to the margins not to make a difference, but so that the “widow, orphan and stranger” make me different then the poor and powerless and all of us inhabit our nobility and dignity together in exquisite mutuality.

How do you deal with the disappointments and heartbreak that can come with working with people on the margins? How do you cope when the story doesn’t end well?

Mother Theresa said, “We are not called to be successful, but faithful.” If we choose love as the architect of our hearts, there is no such thing as disappointment or failure. It’s a decision and a practice. You have to work at it – to choose to cherish with every breath and to find your true self – in loving.

Dallas CASA has youth and children come back to us to meet the volunteers they worked with and thank them for their work. When your homeboys get older and come back to see you, what do they say? What made a difference for them? What do they remember?

As they say, kids will rarely remember what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. It is eternally replenishing to allow the kids you accompany to shape and re-shape your heart. It’s a wonderfully selfish endeavor but that’s why it is so significant.

So often in your stories, you’re meeting your homeboys where they are. You’re seeing the humanity in them. Any tips for Dallas CASA volunteers to help the children and youth they serve see the humanity and promise in themselves?

Every human being is unshakably good. There are no exceptions. The despondent, traumatized, and mentally ill kid can’t see their goodness. They don’t need to measure up or become good – they are already good. So we hold up the mirror and tell them the truth: that they are good. When I work with youth, I tell them that they are exactly what God had in mind when God made them.

Your book is, primarily, about unconditional love. What power can unconditional love have on the lives of others and on our own lives?

Love is the answer. Community is the context. Tenderness is the methodology. The highest form of spiritual maturity is tenderness. It is the connective tissue that joins us to each other.