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Giving LA Foster Youth A Sense of Home

02/01/2016 02:46 EST | Updated 02/01/2017 05:12 EST
Penny Tweedie via Getty Images
Photograph was taken in the west end of London

When my husband and I decided to move to Los Angeles last spring, I distinctly remember a colleague of mine asking why we would want to live there. LA, as he put it, was the loneliest city in the world. From the moment we settled on Venice as our new home base, I've found the city to be quite the opposite, more inclusive and friendly than I ever imagined.

It wasn't long before we knew most of our neighbors, something completely foreign to us, despite coming from a high-density city in Canada. We immediately hit it off with one of our neighbors in particular, after frequent run-ins at our communal barbecue. Before long we learned of the not-for-profit organization she and her partner have been building for the past year and decided to volunteer. In part, to meet new people and expand our network, but also because we were inspired by what they were doing.

That organization is A Sense of Home, a movement that sparked organically when co-founder Georgie Smith reached out to her network of friends to help a foster youth who was struggling to set up his first home. After posting his story on her Facebook page, donations began to pour in and before long his home was outfitted with everything he needed along with the knowledge that people really cared. Strangers, folks he had never met before, came together to ensure his first steps into adulthood were met with the love and support necessary to succeed.

Today, their goal is to change the lives of foster youth who have "aged out" of the foster care system by creating homes for them. Using donated furniture and housewares; volunteers work with these young people to help them realize their own sense of home - often for the first time, in the process, helping them achieve self-sufficiency.

When I think back to when I first moved out on my own, away from the comforts of my childhood home, I wasn't sent out into the world with little more than some clothing and a few personal effects. Furniture, linens, useful hand-me-downs among other items were at my disposal to help me establish my first home of my own. Things that may not seem like a big deal to those of us who were fortunate to have had this support, but crucial to someone starting out with little to no resources. Crucial to a young persons sense of self and dignity. It's not enough to have a roof over your head if the space inside is cold and unliveable.

In Los Angeles County alone, there are 35,000 youth in foster care right now. At age 18 or 21, state and federal support abruptly ends and the youth who aren't adopted are ejected out of the foster system, many without the support of family or any community networks to help them make a successful transition into adulthood.

Which is why the work A Sense of Home is doing is so impactful. Many of these young people are smart, driven, kind and articulate, determined to lead fulfilling, productive lives. Something as simple as the kindness of strangers getting together to set up their first pad can go a long way in helping these kids realize their potential.

We volunteered on a blustery Sunday in South Central. The subject was a young woman in her early 20s, warm and gracious, greeting volunteers as they arrived.

The fourplex she calls home has an ancient fig tree towering overtop, peppering the sidewalk with overripe fruit. Despite the sticky residue left as a result of this beautiful but inconvenient vegetation, it seemed quaint. Idyllic even. Until we stepped inside to discover how sparse the furnishings were. Nothing more than a single bed pushed into one corner and a small table with one chair.

Before long, the front walk was lined with volunteers organizing and dusting off furniture, which would be placed according to a pre-determined floor plan mapped out by Smith and her team. Everything from large pieces of furniture to dishes, bedding and beautiful cut flowers, each piece placed with thoughtful and careful consideration.

The amount of people who showed up to help and the level of their enthusiasm were overwhelming, as I watched this young woman's home come to life while (admittedly) struggling to install a curtain rod. It was clear to me, though, that this was more than just creating a home. It was evidence that people in the community cared. Really, it was an expression of love.

I'm grateful to be living alongside such wonderful people. This big, bad city isn't at all lonely or uncaring as my colleague framed it. From what I've seen so far from our sleepy street in Venice, LA is a town full a generous people who are quietly and selflessly spreading kindness among those who need it most.

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