Jennifer Drone has faced the harsh realities of life on the streets. Her journey began when she was just 12 years old.

“I’ve lived it. I’ve been a homeless teen,” she recalls. “My mom didn’t want me, so I lived on the streets.”

Drone’s early years were marked by loneliness and fear, quickly replaced by a hardened survival instinct. By the age of 14, she had been forced into prostitution and found herself in a relentless cycle of crime and incarceration.

Drone’s life took a pivotal turn just six years ago. From the age of 12, she had been burdened with the belief that her felonies and lack of formal education — having dropped out before finishing the ninth grade and only later earning her GED — would forever bar her from legitimate employment.

The streets became her only option, where hustling was the only way, she knew to survive.

People often told Drone to find solace in faith, but she struggled to believe in a higher power given the hardships she had endured. It wasn’t until she joined a program and met her pastor Lyndal Waldrip, that things began to change.

“He poured into me and told me that the belief I wasn’t good enough was a lie,” Drone said. “He said, ‘I could be somebody, I could change, and I could get a job.’”

And she did. Drone secured a job and began to rebuild her life. This newfound stability illuminated her purpose: to help teens facing the same struggles she had. Drone saw the dire need for support systems in Amarillo, Texas, where many teens were homeless or couch-surfing without a place to call home. They were falling into the same traps she had, believing that life on the streets was all they could expect.

Jennifer Drone is working to ensure that the teens of Amarillo have a place to feel the benefits of community
Jennifer Drone is working to ensure that the teens of Amarillo have a place to feel the benefits of community

Drone knew that changing this narrative required more than just words; it required action. She is leading a crusade to change the lives of homeless and at-risk teenagers in Amarillo. As a result, Drone started Homeless At-Risk Teens (H.A.R.T.), a nonprofit organization passionate about providing a safe space to others who may need it.

"There's no place in Amarillo for kids to go. They end up on the streets and feel like that's all their life will ever be.”

— Jennifer Drone, H.A.R.T. Executive Director

Drone’s mission is to offer these teens GED support, job skills training, and a path away from crime and hopelessness. This nonprofit will provide a GED program through the Black Historical Cultural Center to transition these teens into Amarillo College.

“It starts with being homeless,” Drone said. “You end up stealing for food or doing worse things. Crime is there, and you don’t think there’s a way out. I need to tell these kids there is a way out and there is help.”

Drone’s path hasn’t been easy. Her past includes multiple incarcerations, both as a juvenile and an adult, for crimes ranging from assault to drug charges and solicitation of prostitution. Despite her attempts to break free from the cycle of poverty and crime, 10 years ago, she found herself back in jail for a crime she did not commit, leading to bitterness and despair. But even in these darkest moments, new opportunities arose first with her paster and then a new face.

She connected with the Community Sustainability Team at Communities Unlimited (CU). Drone met with CU Community Facilitator William Thrasher, who saw her potential and helped her lay the foundation for H.A.R.T.

It started with renovating a building in Amarillo to serve as a safe space for homeless teens. Drone has been using her own money to get H.A.R.T. off the ground, but the organization desperately needs funding. Thrasher has been her main support, helping her seek funds for the building.

Thrasher serves as a sounding board and has even joined H.A.R.T.’s board. Together, he and Drone have attended various events, including chamber meetings and citywide business expos, to spread awareness about H.A.R.T.

Recently, Thrasher accompanied Drone to a presentation at the Amarillo Business Women’s Association. Drone’s compelling presentation won their monthly grant of over $1,000, which will go towards rehabilitating the building for H.A.R.T.’s program.

“Jennifer’s a courageous young lady who's seriously committed to her cause and it's not only a worthy cause, but a much-needed cause. She can fill a serious vacuum because there are still too many homeless kids who are out there who feel they have no alternatives. She certainly can provide that helping hand. I'm in her corner 100%.”

William Thrasher

— William Thrasher, Communities Unlimited

Drone finds invaluable support in Thrasher. She says Thrasher has immense dedication to her cause, understanding the need, and passion behind her work.

“Mr. Thrasher is like a second father figure to me,” Drone said. “I go to him for everything. He pushes me forward. Some days, even when I feel like throwing in the towel, he tells me, ‘You can’t do that. God has a calling. This work is a need. You must put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.’ It has been a privilege working with Mr. Thrasher.”