Sparrow’s Nest Celebrates 10 Years of Supporting Unaccompanied Teens in Need of a Safe Haven

Nov. 23, 2023—Climbing up the stairs at Sparrow’s Nest of Northwest Montana’s residential house in Kalispell signifies the rise many homeless teens’ lives will experience. This nonprofit began as a grassroots effort a decade ago and is committed to offering safe housing and a supportive environment to homeless teens, empowering them to focus on completing their education and planning for their future.

From the earliest resident, Estevon Torres, to one of the most recent, Justin Groneman, Sparrow’s Nest provided crucial stability and guidance along the way. Torres has transformed his life since leaving Sparrow’s Nest in 2017. He attended college, entered the workforce, and got married. Torres is presently employed as an educational assistant and mentor at an alternative high school in Oregon. “I think back to my experiences, and because of that, I love working with this age group,” Torres expressed. “For the first time in a really long time, I’m happy. I’m married and I’m at a job I love,” he stated. “[Sparrow’s Nest is] 100% the reason I am where I am today.”

When Torres commenced at Sparrow’s Nest in 2016, it was challenging for him to picture himself graduating. At age 16, he decided to stay in Columbia Falls High School rather than move with his mother after his father died. He ended up living with a friend’s family for about a year. Groneman also found himself homeless under the federal definition at age 16, at which point he was linked with Sparrow’s Nest. Upon graduating in 2022, Groneman enlisted in the Army and reconnected with his father’s side of the family.

While Torres and Groneman had places to stay at one point, they were homeless as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which includes minors without a fixed, regular, or adequate night-time residence. Sparrow’s Nest also served teens who aged out of the foster care system at 18 and struggle to find affordable housing. LGBTQ youth hold a disproportionate percentage of the homeless youth in the organization’s community, as well as on a national scale.

Living at Sparrow’s Nest was the first time Groneman recalls having his own room. The house held more meaning than merely a safe place to stay. Staff members would push residents to reach their potential and provide support. “They are here to help you with whatever you need to graduate. When I was thinking of going to college, they paid the application fee,” Groneman added.

The organization serves high school students ages 14 through 19 in Bigfork, Columbia Falls, Kalispell, and Whitefish school districts. According to the latest data from the Office of Public Instruction, 481 homeless students were attending kindergarten through 12th grade in Flathead County’s public schools during this school year.

Prospective residents at the Kalispell house must go through an application and screening process, including a referral. Sparrow’s Nest representatives do their best to locate parents to sign paperwork regarding the living arrangement, although this can be challenging. Spearheaded by parents, the grassroots effort to launch Sparrow’s Nest started in 2013. Among this group was one of Sparrow’s Nest’s founders, Marcia Bumke.


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