With over 2,000 students at over 100 schools (and only 28 staff members), YOTO’s work would not be possible without the dedication, commitment, and kindness of all our YOTO school liaisons! These amazing individuals are at the heart of YOTO’s program, identifying and advocating on behalf of YOTO youth, distributing stipend checks and basic needs support, and much more. As school employees but volunteers for YOTO, all of this work is done in addition to their normal school responsibilities and without being paid by YOTO.

Last month we caught up with Andrea Vazquez Mata, social worker and YOTO school liaison at Pueblo High School in Tucson, to see how she and the YOTO students she supports were coping with the statewide school closures since March 30.

In the beginning, the biggest challenge Andrea faced was connecting with YOTO students. With unreliable phone and internet access, youth experiencing homelessness – many of whom are couch-surfing and don’t have a stable place to stay even for a few weeks – can be difficult to reach. Andrea noted that it took her a while, but eventually she was able to get a hold of all YOTO youth at Pueblo. She checked-in to see how they were doing, asked about their anxiety levels, talked about coping skills, and offered support. She coordinated with the school to find laptops for students who did not have access to one. She also had joint phone meetings with students and their teachers to make sure the kids were doing their schoolwork, keeping up with assignments and managing their grades.

Andrea also shared how YOTO’s stipend checks and emergency aid really made a difference in students’ lives! Two senior Pueblo students were able to get emergency financial assistance from YOTO when they needed it most – one to cover a portion of their rent and the other to pay a utility bill. Some students continue to visit the Mini Mall to pick up food and other essentials. According to Andrea, “I know the students benefit a lot from this assistance. These were really hard times for some students regarding employment but YOTO helped them in one way or another.”

Yet, there are still many student successes to celebrate at Pueblo! According to Andrea,

“Two of our YOTO senior students received the YOTO college scholarship. In addition, three seniors are attending New Start at the University of Arizona. While we also have a couple of more students attending the U of A, Arizona State University, Pima Community College, and Northern Arizona University in the fall. One of the seniors also received a Rotary recognition for her community service. I also just found out that four of our Pueblo seniors are in the top 25 YOTO seniors!”

The trusting relationships liaisons like Andrea build with youth experiencing homelessness in their high schools are integral to helping students feel supported and motivated. To every single school liaison – past and present – THANK YOU for all that you do to help YOTO students every day! We are so happy to have you in the YOTO Family!

If you’d like to learn more about how you can support YOTO students during the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.

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