HAWTHORNE, Calif. — It is a scene reminiscent of homecoming. Crowds of people face each other in two lines, connecting their hands in the middle to form an archway.
They cheer as Kishondreu Nichols and her family duck under their arms, jogging through their tunnel of love, emerging all smiles and screams to joyful applause.
What You Need To Know
- Georgie Smith, who saw a post on social media from a young man who had just aged out of foster care, started A Sense of Home
- Organization says 50% of those struggling with homelessness are former foster youth
- Furnishing a unit costs about $7,000 dollars and takes about 90 minutes with volunteers
- Youth recipients pay-it-forward by volunteering in future home creations
“Look at the table, baby! Look at the chairs!” Nichols beams, taking it all in.
It is a homecoming, a word heavy with meaning for Nichols, who entered the foster care system at 12. She said neither she nor her husband, Gary Bundley, had a lot of structure growing up, and their struggles continued into adulthood.
When their daughter Brooklyn was born nearly 4 years ago, they brought her home to a motel room. At times, she said, they slept in their car.
Walking into a space filled with furniture, toys and books for her daughter’s new room, she fell to her knees and began crying into her hands. It was an emotionally overwhelming moment.
“To be able to sleep in her bed at night, knowing where we came from and what we’ve been through,” she said. “I am ecstatic right now. My heart is racing. I feel a lot of love. Oh my God, a lot of joy.”
The furnishings and décor that will go to Nichols’ apartment were all hand-selected by a group of volunteers with the nonprofit A Sense of Home, including Tori Horowitz.
As a real estate agent with Canyon House at Compass, she often helps people find their dream home, but she knows that for many, just having basic furniture can feel like a fantasy.
“Trying to pay it forward and trying to make people feel loved in the context of home, you know, it’s just so easy,” she said. “So I feel like it’s my duty.”
Georgie Smith, who saw a post on social media from a young man — who had just aged out of foster care — looking for help, started A Sense of Home.
“And we haven’t stopped responding to that cry,” Smith told the volunteers assembled at the Hawthorne warehouse.
Over 730 homes later, she has created a well-oiled machine powered by love.
After telling the group a bit about Nichols and her family, Smith said, “We are showing up to her to say, 'we see you, we hear you, you matter,' and to really give her that launchpad for success in her life.”
Volunteers watch a video of the youth recipient to learn their story and then spend about 90 minutes pulling items from a warehouse full of donated goods. Furnishing a unit costs about $7,000 dollars and the volunteers throw themselves into designing and decorating.
The project is about far more than aesthetics.
“Furniture poverty is a real thing,” Horowitz explained. “You know, if you want to study to get yourself ahead in life and you’re sitting on the floor, it’s not a path to success.”
What Smith is desperately focused on is keeping these kids off the streets, which unfortunately is where many would otherwise end up. She said that at least 10% of the youth aging out of foster care have no family, no safety net and nowhere to go.
“On day one that they age out, around 20% will become homeless,” Smith said, citing statistics she has in the forefront of her mind. “Within 18 months, 50% will be homeless.”
But not Nichols. Not anymore.
She has a place to stay, and now, the furniture to fill it. She recently graduated with honors and wants to work with young girls living in foster care.
But mostly, she’s focused on Brooklyn. The two curl up to read a picture book called “The Long Journey Home.”
Snuggling with her daughter on her new bed, she feels they have finally arrived.
“The only thing I could say to my six-year-old self was, 'you made it, you’re gonna keep making it, and I can’t wait to see what you do with your life,'” Nichols said.
Between her personal drive and the foundation given to her by A Sense of Home, Horowitz knows the sky is the limit.
“Extraordinary!” she gushed, pulling Nichols into a long hug. “That’s you. That’s you.”