There are a number of reasons a student might pass through Bonnie Kneller’s office in Tucson High Magnet School. In the school year that just ended, she said, more than 75 kids found their way there because they were homeless or not living with their parents.
As a social worker, Kneller serves around 3,000 of the students at Tucson High, she said, and for six years has also been the school’s liaison for Youth On Their Own (YOTO), a nonprofit located in Tucson that aims to keep such students in school. It does so by providing food, clothing, monetary stipends and guidance, according to the group’s website. Kids often find the program by way of friend, teacher or administrator, according to Kneller.
What ties the students in the program together is that, for some reason or another, they don’t live with their parents, she said, and the reasons for their displacement vary widely. She cited myriad major traumas as common factors leading to them being unaccompanied, including violence, abuse, abandonment and the deportation of one or more parents.
Victoria said she lost her mother when she was nine. She recently left her previous school and the support of her father and has been staying between her sister’s house and her boyfriend’s house, she said.
“I think that if a lot of people had to be in my position, those are the kind of people that I want to touch. The people that feel like there’s nothing in this world when there’s everything at the palm of your hands and you just don’t have the energy to reach out, you know? So I want those kind of people to know that there’s someone out there, and there’s always going to be someone out there.”
Victoria is participating in a YOTO internship this summer and will attend Pima Community College in the fall, she said. She eventually plans to attend the University of Arizona for geology or geochemistry.