Youth On Their Own (YOTO) is a dropout prevention program that supports the high school graduation and continued success of homeless, unaccompanied youth in Pima County.
The organization was founded in 1986 when Ann Young, a guidance counselor at Amphitheater High School, became concerned about the increasing number of homeless students… so she took it upon herself to do something about it. Young’s compassion and initiative evolved into the agency that we know today. It took a lot of hard work and support from gracious volunteers over the last 31 years to get the organization on its feet.
After consulting with her fellow teachers, Young’s initial idea was to buy a home for a group of homeless teenage girls. She presented this proposal, along with the stories of the students she aimed to help, to a group gathered at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church dedicated to assisting Tucson’s homeless community. People were appalled at the situations they were in, and jumped at the opportunity to lend them a hand. Soon, Young had an army of volunteers. She even managed to raise $80,000 in a single morning, thanks to the generosity of the congregation.
The money funded a group residence for homeless girls. Known as the St. Andrew’s Friendly Environment (SAFE) House, it quickly became apparent that SAFE House was not large enough to accommodate all of the students who needed services. It became increasingly expensive and was too much for one volunteer parent to handle. The community stepped forward again, and many families volunteered to take care of these students in need. It was an unexpected check from a New York City charitable foundation, though, that launched a stipend program to greatly increase the aid available to homeless teens.
Young’s experience with the SAFE House, which closed after two years, encouraged her to further expand the program. She applied for grants and spread the word about the charitable work the organization was doing. At this point, it was known as the Pima County Homeless Teen Project — a marketing specialist later dubbed it Youth on Their Own — and Young knew that if she wanted to continue her project, she would have to apply to become a full-fledged 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation. After successfully gaining the designation, YOTO applied for and won a grant from Angel Charity for $100,000 for the stipend program in 1990. That funding coupled with a community-wide advertising campaign gave YOTO the exposure it needed to really take off and become the program it is today.
Since then, over 16,000 homeless and compromised students have been empowered to stay in school and pursue opportunities for self-sufficiency.