Earlier this year, Dr. Will Taylor was asked to become a board member for the Youth on Their Own program. He couldn’t say yes fast enough. Dr. Taylor is passionate about YOTO’s mission and vision, which is to serve the population of homeless and unaccompanied youth in Pima County. YOTO’s ultimate goal is to help these kids stay in school and obtain their high school diploma and opportunities for self-sufficiency.
Founded in 1986 by Ann Young, a guidance counselor in the Amphitheater School District, the organization addresses the challenges faced by students who, for a myriad of reasons, have found themselves without a stable home. The situations were varied. Some found themselves homeless after a parent had died. Others were without a place to stay after parental abandonment or due to a parent’s illness or drug addiction. Some had run away from an abusive situation. What also varied was where these kids were staying. Many were couch-hopping between friends or relatives. Some were in foster or group homes.
Ms. Young had noticed that many of these kids were talented and motivated students who struggled to stay in school while forced to live on their own. Trying to continue their education while also attempting to meet basic needs for shelter and food was an incredibly tough challenge. But they also realized that an education was their only ticket out of the compromised situation into which they had been forced.
Inspired by the tenacity of these students’ to stay in school, others joined Ms. Young in the mission of supporting these kids to become high school graduates. Other school counselors, teachers, volunteers, and community members came together to form YOTO. In the last 30 years, over 16,000 homeless students have been empowered to stay in school, obtain a diploma and increase their chances for self-sufficiency.
Youth on Their Own: Eligibility and Services
Youth On Their Own supports students in three main areas — financial assistance, basic human needs, and guidance. All three areas of support are designed to help homeless youth to have the resources they need to stay in school and graduate. Taken directly from the YOTO website, here are the eligibility requirements and a list of the services offered:
To be eligible for the program, students must be:
- Enrolled in a Pima County middle or high school, from grades 6 through 12, and be under the age of 22.
- Unaccompanied through no fault/choice of their own; not in the physical custody of a parent or long-term legal guardian; and without a stable home.
Students are eligible to receive a monthly stipend of up to $140 which provides a safety net in managing daily needs. To be eligible to receive a stipend, students must have passing grades in all classes (A’s, B’s, or C’s) and meet school attendance requirements (minimum 80% attendance rate).
Basic Human Needs
- Special Needs Program: Emergency financial assistance may be requested once per semester to assist students with living essentials (e.g., rent, utilities, or medical expenses). To receive funds, students must also complete a financial planning workshop.
- Basic Needs / Mini-Mall: The YOTO “Mini-Mall” provides free basic needs items such as food, clothing, hygiene items, household goods, and school supplies. Students may visit the Mini-Mall in-person or request that items be dropped off at their school. All donations that stock the “Mini-Mall” are provided by the generosity of community members, organizations, and businesses. Learn more here.
- Transportation: Monthly bus passes and bicycles (when available) provide students with transportation to school, work, and health care appointments.
YOTO provides students with referrals to other social service and healthcare agencies to ensure that each receives the support required to graduate from high school. The organization has created new and strengthened existing collaborations with local community agencies, organizations, and businesses to provide a wide-range of services including, but not limited to:
- Housing Referrals
- Personal Counseling
- One-on-One Success Coaching
- Medical, Dental and Vision Care
- Refurbished Computers
- Employment Opportunities and Community Involvement Activities
Youth On Their Own also offers a Workforce Readiness Program that helps students prepare for life after high school. Without the stability of a family and the lack of parental guidance, most of the youth in our program cannot imagine what the next day of their life will bring… let alone plan their future career paths. The YOTO Workforce Readiness Department provides guidance, mentoring and training in:
- Pursuing possible educational scholarship opportunities
- Assessing skills to determine possible career paths after high school
- Preparation for job placement, from application to resume to interview
All images and charts are property of Youth on Their Own.