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Meet Christina Dronen of Finally Family Homes in Santa Clarita

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christina Dronen.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up a military kid, moving every 2-4 years. I met and married my husband in Minnesota and we moved to Los Angeles over 13 years ago. So now I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else.

When I was in college in Minnesota there were times when things were hard and adults in my community, through church, really stepped in and gave me support. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their investment.

Living in Los Angeles has put me down the path of minimalism, which I am truly grateful for. With high rents in West LA we had the choice to learn how to live in our small place or completely leave the area. So, we learned how to live on less and it made our space more livable. Through that journey I became enchanted with tiny homes on wheels.

At the same time, our church in Los Angeles was doing some great work educating us about homelessness and foster care – and the dire need here in LA. Not only did we get educated, but involved.

I was shocked to learn that former foster kids make up a substantial population of the homeless and that at least 20% become homeless the moment they age out. They leave foster care often with nothing more than a trash bag of their clothing. My husband and I both felt moved to action. It had never occurred to us that so many kids who get put into foster care would spend the rest of their childhoods without a forever home or family.

At that time, I began volunteering here and there with teen foster youth at a group home and other young adults in need. With some, I could really feel the hopelessness and anger about the way life was going. It’s hard to keep up hope if you don’t believe anyone cares about you.

Then, in the summer of 2017, I went on a short trip to Kyrgyzstan to help support a local church there with their work. One of their ministries was serving orphans who aged out of care there, which is at age 16.

In their “origin story” the pastor of the Kyrgyz church was moved to start a home for aged-out orphans after conversation with a young girl at an orphanage. She had asked, “Is it true that when we leave here, the boys will go to jail and the girls will become prostitutes?”

Sadly, he couldn’t say no. Orphans there are put out on the street at 16 with no resources or help. The church there decided that wasn’t good enough. Thankfully they have a home that not only houses & feeds the youth but connects them to mentors, education, and the church community.

As I’ve learned more about aging out in the United States, I was horrified to learn that we do no better. Foster youth are over-represented in homelessness, in human trafficking, and in prisons. Some stats indicate that about 70% of trafficked children in LA come from foster care. 80% of prison inmates have a history in foster care. And we estimate about 1,000 former foster youth under 25 sleep on the streets of LA on any given night.

As I volunteered at the church in Kyrgyzstan, I worked alongside some of the girls being helped by their home. I was stunned at the difference in these young ladies as compared to the youth I met here. The young women there were filled with so much more hope. I truly believe the personal and holistic investment in these youth resulted in their sense of hope and peace.

Upon my return, I immediately formed Finally Family Homes. That was in the fall of 2017.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It feels a little like Chutes and Ladders, sometimes. At times there are setbacks and others there are great strides forward.

We were living in Culver City when started and didn’t have space of things like building tiny homes. It took a lot of research before we decided that Santa Clarita was a more suitable and affordable location to build tiny homes and support aging out foster youth. And then we moved our family up here.

So, we faced a challenge to get connected to our new community and get the lay of the land. As anyone who’s moved across LA knowns, sometimes a move across town might as well be a move across the country

In 2018 we got Finally Family Homes up and running as an organization. In fall 2019, we started offering our life skills dinners with the support of Valencia Hills Community Church.

Another struggle we wrestled with for a while was figuring out where to park the tiny homes once they’re completed. And then, like miracle, in December 2019 Los Angeles made tiny homes on wheels legal ADU’s.

And then there’s the steep starting cost of getting up and running with the tiny home builds. Ultimately, it’s significantly cheaper than housing youth in rentals, where they walk away with nothing. It’s only the very beginning that’s a bit more costly, but it becomes 2-5 times cheaper than the other solutions out there in the long run.

Reaching youth as they are aging out of foster care can be challenging, too. Many youths want nothing to do with anything that mentions “foster.” They walk away from great opportunities set aside just for them, and thousands of dollars of free resources, just to leave it all behind.

But the youth we have gotten to know and work with have honestly been amazing. They’ve been great about engaging at our workshops and have been surprisingly authentic. I’m sure it helps that attending is entirely their choice.

Finally Family Homes – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
At Finally Family Homes, we believe turning 18 (or whatever age a foster youth leaves the system) can be a new beginning – and that no one is ever “too old for a family.”

We provide life skills workshops in a program called Life Launch. At Life Launch we bring in guest speakers who are experts in their field along with lunch or dinner. We’ve had an MFT speak to the youth about dealing with anxiety. We’ve had a professionally trained chef teach some basic cooking skills. Pictured is Brooke-Sidney Harbour of the Mindful Soul Show teaching mindfulness. Also pictured, Kristin DeCou certified KonMari Consultant teaching organization skills. And also pictured is Nicole Yang of Show Me The Notes teaching study skills.

Since then, our life skills workshops (Life Launch) have been offered as lunches at LA Mission College. And now they’re streaming online at Golden Valley High School in partnership with the PAWS program, which serves underprivileged youth.

Fulfilling our mission includes providing the kind of resources that match those that are afforded young adults who have a supportive, healthy, and safe family of origin. That means connecting the youth to families and communities in their area. It means providing encouragement, guidance, and financial support.

We hope to get our Host Homes program (where youth stay in a room in someone’s home) up and running before the end of the year, as well as getting started on our first tiny house on wheels.

Our plan is for the youth to invest alongside us in building tiny homes on wheels that they will own. Along the way, we will be equipping them with life skills and community. And when they move on, we are never “done” with them. They will always have somewhere to go for Thanksgiving or Christmas. They will always have someone to call for help – like a family.

What makes Finally Family Homes particularly unique is that we offer a long-term safety net. We are offering a hand to hold, not handouts. We do this in two ways.

The first way is by connecting these youth to the community for the long term. 5, 10, 20 years down the road, they can come back for holidays, dinners, and gatherings -like a family. We have strategies to help them get back on their feet when they fall on hard times – no matter if they are 19 or 29. More adults are moving back in with their families of origin in hard times than ever right now, something aged out foster youth don’t have.

The other way we uniquely create a safety net is by helping youth build to own their own tiny homes. They will help pay, as want them invested. And we want them to have that sense of ownership and accomplishment. As well, owning their own tiny homes stabilizes their cost of living and creates an additional buffer against financial hardship and a foundation for financial independence.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
We see success as seeing our young adults beating the statistics and living into their potential by doing things like graduating High School and college, avoiding prison, trafficking, and homelessness.

We believe the greatest success is having youth who move on to become thriving, hopeful, and connected adults, pursuing a life where they are able to use their own gifts and abilities to help others.

Pricing:

  • $100 can provide one week of toiletries for 5 youth.
  • $500 can provide one youth with housing for one month.
  • $10 monthly can provide 20 meals to food insecure youth.
  • $10 monthly can provide 20 meals to food insecure youth.
  • $50 per month can provide 30 youth with essential winter gear – hats, gloves, socks, and ponchos to be protected from the elements.

Contact Info:


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