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  • Donations through ECAP help young people meet their goals

    Editor's Note: For the past few months, eScoop has been highlighting a local nonprofit as an example of a class of nonprofits that benefit from annual employee ECAP contributions, including those organizations that directly support County programs, operations or missions. DON'T FORGET, THE DEADLINE IS DEC. 14!

    Ah, youth. A time of contradictions: at once a period of great optimism and vitality but also struggles. Young people must grapple with establishing an identity, peer pressure and academic demands, not to mention the difficulties of the physical changes wrought by hormones and puberty. Most navigate those waters guided by parents and extended family. But for hundreds of youth in Pima County that parental guidance isn’t there. For a variety of reasons, they end up homeless or with limited options.

    That’s where Youth On Their Own - YOTO - comes in. YOTO is a dropout prevention program founded in 1986 that supports young people from sixth to twelfth grade through their high school graduation.

    Since its inception YOTO has enabled over 16,000 homeless and or unaccompanied students to stay in school and find opportunities for self-sufficiency.YOTO

    “We give them somewhere to turn,” Agency Chief Executive Officer Nicola Hartmann said. “We let them know we believe in them, that we care. That’s really important. We all need someone who cares about us. The goal is to give them hope.”

    Hope is a good thing. And a good kid. 

    Eighteen-year-old Hope Echeverria (pictured below) graduated this past summer from Alta Vista High School with help from YOTO. She has a warm smile, dark, wavy hair and an unassuming, friendly manner.
    Adopted at a young age, she never felt entirely welcome in her family. She did well in school, earning straight A’s, worked at a local fast-food chain to contribute to the household’s income but still became estranged from her family. Things came to a head when she was a junior in high school. Her parents kicked her out of the house at 16.

    “It was a shock. I really wasn’t expecting things to turn out that way. I was feeling really alone,” she said. “I was doing everything I could to prove myself to my family and earn support from them and I just never got it. So that’s how I ended up on my own.”

    Initially Hope lived with her boyfriend while deciding what to do next. She stayed in school and kept up with her studies but her demeanor changed significantly.

    Hope’s school counselor noticed the once-outgoing and vibrant young woman becoming withdrawn and sullen. When Hope’s mother called the school to say she no longer would have anything to do with her daughter the counselor, one of dozens of volunteer YOTO liaisons, put Hope in contact with the agency.

    YOTO staffers moved quickly to provide a monthly stipend to help cover her rent and bills as well as basic needs including food, clothing and hygiene items.

    But Hope feels it was the emotional support she received that helped her most and she took solace in knowing she wasn’t the only young person in similar straits.

    “Just knowing that there’s an organization that exists to help students like myself really was a relief. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one. I never would have guessed there were other students facing these types of issues, like students at my school who I didn’t know were on their own. And finding out that maybe we could help each other.”Hope

    While YOTO students come from every socioeconomic group, about 40 percent end up living in a temporary situation, either with friends or extended family.

    “It’s not homelessness like you would see out on the street,” Hartmann said. “They go live with a friend and sometimes that’s a good situation that can last but oftentimes it’s like ‘You can stay on the couch but after a few weeks but you need to move on.’”

    The numbers are eye-popping. From July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, 1,741 young people from Ajo to Vail received some sort of help from YOTO, which offered $681,576 in stipends. Current enrollment stands just under 1,300 students, a nine percent increase from the same time last year. On average, YOTO spends approximately $1,800 per year to support each student.

    YOTO operates a “Mini-Mall” in a building adjacent to its offices where students may shop for clothes, food, school supplies, toiletries and household items. Last year the shop saw 10,033 visits. In addition, students receive a backpack for school and, if requested, a bus pass or bicycle to ensure they have transportation. For students who can’t come to YOTO, the Caring Couriers program comes to them. Students can see what’s available in the shop and request items online; then every Wednesday, a team of 20 volunteers boxes up their orders and delivers them to students’ school. ECAP contributions support eleven other agencies focused on youth services:

    Casa de Los Niños
    1101 N. 4th Ave.

    Teen Challenge of Arizona, Inc.
    PO Box 5966, Tucson, AZ 85703

    Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson
    3155 E. Grant Rd.

    Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Tucson
    160 E. Alameda St.

    AVIVA Children's Services
    153 S. Plumer Ave.

    Arizona's Children Association
    3716 E. Columbia St.

    Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona
    4300 E. Broadway Blvd.

    Boy Scouts of America - Catalina Council
    2250 E. Broadway Blvd.

    Southern Arizona Children’s Advocacy Center
    2329 E. Ajo Way

    Child-Parent Centers, Inc. – Head Start
    602 E. 22nd St.

    Child & Family Resources
    2800 E. Broadway Blvd.

    YOTO has only two hard-and-fast rules: young people must be enrolled in school and they must be homeless through no fault of their own. Those who are not currently attending classes can get help enrolling. Runaways are reported to law enforcement and referred to social service agencies that can help in the short term. Pima County has only one shelter geared for youth under age 18 and that offers only eight beds.

    YOTO is highly successful in meeting its primary goal, boasting an 84 percent graduation rate. Last year, 327 seniors received their diplomas. Compare that to the 78 to 80 percent graduation rate for all high school seniors statewide.

    But even then, YOTO’s work isn’t done. All too often, the end of the students' high school careers also means the end of their tenuous living arrangements.

    “Lately we’ve seen a number of students who get kicked out immediately after graduation,” Hartmann said. “I’ve been here almost two-and-a-half years and after my first week on the job I met my first student who was kicked out the day after graduation.’ She wasn’t even angry about it.”

    YOTO also offers students college and career assistance but has only one staffer dedicated to that purpose so graduates receive most of the attention. A relationship with the Fred G. Acosta Job Corps Center provides access to career technical and academic training.

    Ninety-four percent of YOTO donations come from individual, foundation and corporate donors with grants and government assistance making up the difference. During the 2017 ECAP campaign, Youth On Their Own received $8,136 from 63 donors, making it the sixth-most popular ECAP recipient.

    More money could allow YOTO to create a more long-term rental assistance program and expand its college placement and jobs program and hire more personnel, particularly coordinators so they can help more students. It also might allow the organization to expand its facilities and build a youth center where students could hang out, grab a bite, shower and do laundry.

    “The breadth of our community support is amazing,” Hartmann said. “It’s why our youth can feel so cared for. It’s thousands of people who say ‘I don’t know who you are and I’m probably never going to see you but I believe in you and I’m going to give some monetary help to show you that.’”

    Hope graduated last spring and is now working in sales at Mister Car Wash and paying back YOTO by serving as an ambassador for the organization, representing it at events, fundraisers and public outreach efforts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hope now wants to explore the possibility of attending college and building a career in the non-profit sector, working to help the community.

    “I’m all about causes and standing up for people who don’t have a voice. One issue that particularly interests me is global climate change. All the evidence is there but not enough people are acting on it. I feel like more advocacy is needed there.”

    Whatever she does, Hope knows she’s ready for the next step.

    “I feel like because I’ve gone through so much, I know my potential. I have the ability to grow into a successful, well-rounded person. It’s changed my view of the world, knowing there are people willing to help; who have kind hearts. At the beginning, it was overwhelming. I was lonely. I didn’t have anyone. But this organization is full of people who want to help you.”

    The 2018-2019 ECAP campaign kicked off Sept. 19. Donations may be made online. For more information or to join the ECAP Committee, contact Committee Chair Ray Velez by phone, 520-724-4489, or email. Also, check out the ECAP Intranet page.

    Other nonprofits previously featured in eScoop: 
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