FARMINGTON — The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies has begun a campaign calling for local community members, businesses and institutions to help sponsor “Making Home Possible,” its initiative to provide housing-insecure youth with affordable tiny homes.

Just a few weeks into the campaign, CES has fully funded its first house thanks to the Bjorn Foundation, established by Richard Bjorn of Kyes Insurance, who has donated $50,000. In addition, Coldwell Banker Sandy River Realty has donated $1,000.

Sara Taylor, communications coordinator for CES, announced the sponsorship at the center’s “Raise the Roof!” fundraiser. The party helped raise money and draw attention to the importance of the initiative, especially in Franklin County, where youth housing insecurity is becoming increasingly common.

“We are extremely proud to announce that we have garnered the support of two local businesses that believe in our efforts and problem solving approach,” Taylor wrote in a prepared statement. “This funding will allow us the ability to fund proven leveraging methods including the hiring of professionals who can tap into multiple private and public funding sources.”

Ultimately, the goal of the tiny house initiative is to “make an affordable housing community that serves our vulnerable populations and those seeking a healing, happy and healthy lifestyle at home.”

In a written statement, Kyes Insurance said Bjorn believes “affordable housing is a serious issue and he hopes his foundation donation helps.”

“For somebody to take the position of giving us that kind of money, and then to validate that it’s needed and that they trust us to do that, I think is huge,” CES Director Bonita Lehigh said in an interview. “(It’s validating) just to show that they have faith in who we are.”

Battling homelessness and housing insecurity, particularly among youth, has been one of CES’ main goals since it opened in July 2020.

Lehigh launched CES as a place to empower people, particularly young people, with entrepreneurship to “target an array of countywide issues from child neglect and cyclical poverty to a stalling economy and homelessness,” The Franklin Journal reported at the time.

According to a 2020 report from the state Department of Education, about 60% of the homeless children in Maine are doubled up in shared housing, 20% to 25% are at shelters or transitional housing, 10% to 15% are living at motels and 3% to 5% are unsheltered and staying in cars, at temporary trailers or something similar.

“Tiny Homes and affordable housing are indeed housing solutions and we hope that this approach enhances Tiny House real-estate development in Franklin County and beyond,” Taylor wrote in the announcement.

Lehigh said she and CES feel validated by these grants and “firmly believe it’s going to give us the ability to capture the attention of other people.”

Lehigh, Taylor and CES were looking for $45,000 to build the first tiny home. They said that was the cost of a single house because they “want to equip the house with quality appliances, insulation and furnishings to make sure this is a livable home that’s comfortable for healthy living.”

“We need to empower and heal youth, not keep them marginalized in an 8-by-20-foot shed,” they said.

“Making Home Possible” has now received $71,000, including a $20,000 previous donation from the United Way’s Leap Explosion Fund. So far, CES has received $10,000 of that money.

The donations put CES is even closer to establishing a tiny house village Lehigh envisions to help address homelessness in Farmington, Franklin County and throughout Maine.

Although the initiative is now geared toward housing-insecure youth, Lehigh said she hopes to offer housing to individuals from other financially marginalized or housing-insecure groups, such as veterans and the elderly.

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