YOTO youth are truly the most resilient and awe-inspiring young people around! Even though COVID-19 cast a shadow on many end of year activities and celebrations, senior students have found a way to rise above the disappointment and focus on their bright futures. Last month we checked in with YOTO high school senior Marianna to hear how she was doing.

Prior to the pandemic, Marianna enjoyed a very busy school life. She was a member of student council, part of the National Honors Society, she volunteered, and before she tore her ACL, she played volleyball, soccer and ran track. She was truly a superstar! On student council, she worked tirelessly with her peers to plan prom, senior assemblies, honors night, and graduation day. That’s what made the school closure announcement at the end of March even harder to take. After all the work Marianna and the student council put into planning and organizing those events, it was beyond disappointing to find out they might no longer happen.

For Marianna and her sister, their high school was more than just a school – it was home. The teachers and staff at their high school became the extended family they could turn to when they needed help.  Marianna explained that her mom passed away in the summer between sixth and seventh grade. All of Marianna’s siblings were separated, except her and her sister. They were in and out of the foster care system for several years. At one point, they moved in with their father but after he and their step-mother broke up, they had to leave their step-mother’s house. Their father did not step up to be a parent. Marianna and her sister were put back into foster care. “For my sister and I, graduation was always our key to leave. That was our way out,” she shared. To not have all of the end of year celebrations she had looked forward to for years was heartbreaking for her.

Looking ahead, Marianna said she is feeling both anxious and optimistic about the future.

“My life has never been easy. I’ve always been hit with new roadblocks, like moving from house to house. I guess everything going on right now with COVID works out to my advantage because I’m so used to so many different changes and obstacles being thrown at me… At the end of the day, I have to pick myself up and keep going. That’s just my mindset through everything in life.”

Marianna will be attending the University of Arizona in the fall. Her dream is to be a youth counselor or social worker – just like YOTO’s phenomenal Program Coordinators! Having been through many hardships during her own youth, Marianna wants to make a positive difference by helping others, particularly during these crucial years.

We wish Marianna and ALL graduating YOTO seniors the very best as they close this chapter of their lives and embark on an exciting new adventure into adulthood!

Local photographers and high school seniors support YOTO youth with graduation portrait fundraiser