YOTO is changing young lives in Pima County

Cindy Mayron

When Rashel was 15 years old, her parents could no longer support her, and she moved in with her aunt, uncle and younger cousins. “I still felt rejected and my uncle insisted that I had to do more long hours of work cleaning. It made it hard to do my homework. I never felt like a part of the family.”

At the end of her sophomore year, her Spanish teacher told her about Youth on Their Own (YOTO). YOTO provided her free access to basic supplies at the mini-mall (food, hygiene, school), a bus pass plus a monthly stipend as long as she stayed in school and maintained good grades. “Life became so much better after I found out about YOTO. I had a big depression, was gaining weight and my clothes and shoes didn’t fit. I had to wear the same pair of shoes all year.”

“YOTO gave me money to buy clothes, shoes and basic supplies like food and toiletries. It was my only relief from reality, and I felt like I belonged somewhere. They encouraged me to graduate from high school; my dad only went to middle school, and my mom didn’t finish high school. They told me about the scholarships available that would help me go to the University of Arizona.”

“The idea of going to college sounded a little scary, but the YOTO staff had become my family and they cared about me and became the parents I didn’t have.” Sadly, her living arrangements only lasted a year when her uncle kicked her out. Her parents were living in Mexico, and when the offer from her aunt’s church friend didn’t work out, she started ‘couch hopping’ with different friends.

Rashel just finished her freshman year at the University of Arizona, majoring in Family Studies. She’s living with friends in an apartment and plans for her younger brother moving in with her in August when he starts high school this fall. “After I graduate, I hope to work for YOTO to help other kids like me.”

Rashel is now a YOTO Ambassador and shared her story at TWOQC’s May program along with Bethany Neumann, Director of Development and the YOTO Ambassador program. YOTO is a dropout prevention program that supports the high school graduation and continued success of homeless, unaccompanied young kids grades 6-12 (up to age 21 to earn a diploma) living in Pima County (13 students are in the Sahuarita area). “YOTO has an 84% graduation rate,” said Newmann.

“Our annual YOTO School Supplies Drive is in full swing through August,” said Sue Ann Obremski, YOTO Committee Chair. Drop off adult-sized backpacks, flash drives, highlighters, pens, mechanical pencils, composition notebooks, folders and binders in the bin located in the Quail Creek clubhouse lobby or at Sue Ann’s home, 531 N. Keyes Rd.

Gift cards of $10/$25 and checks are happily accepted. Please contact Sue Obremski at [email protected] to arrange for your gift card donations to go directly to her instead of in the donation bin.