Requesting items from YOTO’s Mini Mall has never been easier for students thanks to the new student portal!
Now more than ever, each of us has realized the importance of finding ways to connect with our community. At Youth On Their Own (YOTO), we’ve been investing in systems to improve how we serve YOTO youth – both during and after COVID. Notably, this year YOTO launched a new “YOTO Student Portal” – a tool that, while envisioned before COVID, has been absolutely critical to our ability to effectively help youth during this pandemic!
During the last few years, YOTO has been working to transition the administrative aspects of our program to an online format. Not only do young people increasingly feel more comfortable using online platforms, but by improving our technology, YOTO is able to gather more information and improve both the quality and the speed of the services we offer to youth. While we had a version of the portal for several years, it was quite limited in its scope and function. For example, students could order “vegetables” from our Mini Mall, but could not indicate what kind. In addition, the old portal was only accessible from our office, meaning that staff in the field had to come back to YOTO to update notes and student information.
We decided that to serve our students well, it was necessary to make an investment in rebuilding the portal. In February 2020, YOTO began working with developers at Goji Labs to bring to life new and innovative ideas that have now changed how YOTO works with students!
During COVID, perhaps the most important improvement has been the addition of online student enrollment and orientation. Most YOTO youth are not attending school in person, so at the moment, we cannot rely on school liaisons to help them through the application process. With our new portal, students applying to YOTO can complete the process online. They can also directly contact YOTO Program Coordinators – who no longer need to be in the office to use the portal – to get help or receive an update on their application status!
Additionally, the portal allows YOTO students to make service requests online. For instance, they can now ask for assistance with a utility bill, turn in their grades for their stipend, or request Mini Mall supplies – all online! And, they can tell us exactly what kind of Mini Mall support (green beans, corn, tomatoes, etc.) they need. In many ways, it’s like a YOTO Amazon!
Another new feature is a student dashboard that provides announcements and information from YOTO to all our youth. YOTO students are able to see job postings, Mini Mall updates, and useful community resources. Instructional videos – in both English and Spanish – are also available on the portal to show youth how to take advantage of all YOTO’s services.
These transformative changes to the portal couldn’t have come at a better time! As Allyssa del Rosario, YOTO’s Lead Data Coordinator and our “point person” for the YOTO Student Portal shared,
“With COVID-19, we’re happy we were able to convert a lot of things online, like the online orientation which provides a brief overview of the services YOTO provides. We are also able to post announcements to the student dashboard, making it easier to get information and resources out to our students!”
The portal would not have been possible without the support of our many YOTO Family members. In particular, longtime YOTO supporters Jan and Jim Springer, who have sponsored the student portal by providing critical funding at its earliest stages, have been key to the project’s success. Even before COVID, Jan and Jim were able to see how important the YOTO Student Portal would be to delivering services to students. As Jan explains, “We became knowledgeable about the programs by sitting down with the CEO and staff to gain a deeper understanding of the impact that YOTO makes on the students. We feel this portal will address the current challenges due to the increasing number of homeless students.”
As much as we already love our new YOTO Student Portal, it will always be a work in progress. Over the next few months, we will continue to fix bugs, get student feedback, make modifications, and test new projects within the portal. As time goes by, we hope the YOTO Student Portal will become the online YOTO “home” for our students – a place they can go to find the support they need to graduate from high school and become productive members of our community! Thank you to everyone who has supported and continues to support this important project!
A snapshot of the dashboard on YOTO’s new student portal!