PHOTO BY JASON BOYETT

When Jennifer Drone was born, her mother wasn’t equipped to raise her, so she spent her earliest years living with her grandfather. But when Drone was 12, her grandfather died—and her mom still didn’t want her. “I’ve been on my own since I was 12, homeless, in and out of the juvenile and adult system,” she says.

By the time she turned 18, she had three children of her own and was headed to prison. She’d been forced into prostitution, sold drugs to survive, and couldn’t see a way out. “Life was not fair to me, so I was just gonna hurt everybody in my path,” Drone remembers.

Those teenage years launched her into an adulthood that spiraled through the criminal justice system. Decades later, having served her time, she’s intent on steering today’s homeless teens away from that path and the kinds of situations they might spend the rest of their lives trying to escape.

A critical part of her journey was the Prisoner Re-Entry Program, or PREP, at Randall County Jail, which offers support for inmates who have a long history of criminal activity but hope to become productive citizens once released. Drone was mentored by pastor and program coordinator Lyndal Waldrip of
More Church. “He believed so much in me, let me go to nonprofit classes and speak to teens while I was incarcerated,” she says. “My whole life changed.”

Since her release, Drone has become the founder of a new nonprofit, H.A.R.T. Amarillo, which stands for Homeless and At-Risk Teens. The mentorship program is intended to help teenagers get their G.E.D. and eventually transition into programs at Amarillo College. Drone and her board are working to transform an unused downtown building at the intersection of Southest 10th Avenue and Lincoln Street (above) into a peer-led community center and living facility for homeless teenagers.

Amarillo offers few resources for homeless teens. Drone points out that most homeless teenagers aren’t living on the streets by choice, but simply because they have no other options. They bounce around the homes of friends, sleeping on couches or the floor, trying to avoid abuse, parental drug use, or an otherwise bad situation at home. 

“This organization is extremely important,” says H.A.R.T. board member Melodie Graves. “With so many things already up against kids these days, we need to make sure that we all do our part to make the journey easier for them. This organization will fill a void that is needed to make Amarillo better.”

While Drone applies for grants and plans an October fundraiser, H.A.R.T. is in need of remodeling and construction volunteers—“plumbing, walls, framing, services to help get the building together,” she says—as well as financial donors.

Learn more about H.A.R.T. Amarillo by contacting Drone at 806-673-7018. 

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