SANTA ANA, Calif. — Family is everything for Fontana resident Laron Brown. He’s in the holiday spirit with his family at their home, but as kid this scene was something he could only dream of.
Until he was eight years old, Laron was a foster child just hoping to find a family.
“You constantly ask yourself, ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Where’s my life headed?’ ‘Is there anybody out there that wants me?’ It’s kind of like you’re in no man’s land,” Brown said.
But after being shipped from one home to the next, he was sent to Omega Turner’s house. She gave him a permanent place call home, and now he simply calls her his mom.
“It was like of the bat, it was 0-100. She showed me her true colors on the first night I met her. And to me, I was like, ‘Hey, who is this lady? Why is she so aggressive?’ ‘Are you hungry?’ ‘Then say something!’ So it was like that. And I was just this little shy kid over there. But over time I realized how grateful I was for the foster care system,” Laron said.
The foster care system he experienced influenced him to become a peer mentor and employee at the Orangewood Resource Center, part of the Orangewood Foundation, a non-profit that provides foster and community youth services.
The Foundation is piloting a county and state-funded program that will house foster teens during the week beginning in January, in dorms at the Samueli Academy, a free charter high school in Santa Ana.
While teens are housed during the week, the foundation is looking to find families that will provide the youth with stability on weekends and holidays, and provide places for them to call home forever.
Orangewood Chief Program Officer Dr. Shay Sorrells said that creating the space and proximity for foster teens will greatly increase their chances of success.
“The national statistics are less than 54% of foster youth graduate high school. That is 30% lower than the average teenager. So that in itself is a huge deficit if you can’t have that first step into independence,” Dr. Shay said.
Mission Viejo resident Lynn Young has a younger son Sean, but she and her husband are also foster parents to their son Ozzy, who was 17 when they opened their doors to him.
Making the decision to share their life wasn’t about having to become different people, she said. She found out she was pregnant two weeks after Ozzy moved in, and today 23-year-old Ozzy is the son and big brother that completed their family.
“We don’t have to change, we don’t have to be different, we just have to share what we already have. And what’s crazy is when you do that, you get just as much back as the child does," said Young.
Laron’s mom passed away in 2005, but she lives on in Laron's heart and in the adoring father, partner, and successful track coach he is today.
It was his mom opening her door to him, that allowed him to open doors for himself.
“In the act, you’re changing someone’s life for the better," Laron said. "You’re giving them something they never had or it was taken from them, and now you can fill a void, now you could be that positive … that light that they need at the end of the tunnel. And you can provide such a great pathway to a better life."