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Support (and empathy) for the kids

Jennifer Friend, who once lived without a steady roof herself, supports homeless youth through Project Hope Alliance.

March 05, 2014|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Jennifer Friend, CEO of Project Hope Alliance, poses for a portrait at the organization's headquarters in Costa Mesa. Project Hope Alliance is working on ending homelessness for 28,000 children in Orange County. Among its partners are nonprofits Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and Art & Creativity for Healing Inc.
Jennifer Friend, CEO of Project Hope Alliance, poses… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Even now, Jennifer Friend wonders if her former classmates from sixth and seventh grades bought the stories she would spin.

Growing up, she masked her family's financial instability and episodic homelessness by claiming that her phone wasn't working or that she was house-sitting. She wanted to avoid visits and sleepovers at all costs.

"Really, it didn't matter if they [believed me] or not," she said. "I was just too ashamed to tell them the truth."

Friend and her three brothers, who split their youths between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, were raised by a technology-entrepreneur father and a mother who taught preschool. When her father's business did well, the family stayed afloat. When it didn't, neither did they, forcing them to take shelter at friends' homes and in motels.

"I would try to gauge if we were close to being evicted by looking through the mail, paying attention to what was or was not in the refrigerator, being aware of where we did or did not drive to because of gas money and if our utilities were or were not connected," Friend said.

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"This is all to say that while I was incredibly blessed to have loving, nurturing and engaged parents, for a kid, I had a lot on my mind."

It's no wonder that now the Costa Mesa resident's thoughts are about other similarly-afflicted children. Today, every email that takes flight from her inbox is signed "For the kids."

Friend is the chief exective of Project Hope Alliance, an Orange County-based nonprofit striving to end homelessness for an estimated 28,000 children in the area. She zealously oversees all efforts to not only educate them but also help their families move from shelters into homes.

Many youngsters ages 10 to 18 tend to be concerned about making the football team, cheerleading squad or student council or participating in the yearbook, Friend said. By contrast, those eligible for aid from Project Hope Alliance and its partner agencies worry about whether they will have dinner each night or a place to get a few hours' sleep.

"This leaves little room or energy for doing math homework, dreaming of becoming a scientist or learning how to play a musical instrument," Friend remarked. "I know that because I once 'had a lot on my mind,' I am passionately protective over what the children that we serve have on their minds."

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Hope for 500

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