At Youth On Their Own, homeless youth enrolled in the program are given the opportunity to earn a stipend up to $140 a month for the 9-month school year while they are actively attending class. These stipends provide enough supplemental income for students to focus on academics instead of a full-time job. Students earn their checks through good grades and excellent attendance. In order to receive their stipend students must be awarded C’s or better in all of their classes and maintain at least an 80% attendance rate. Students who fail to meet these requirements will have their stipend amounts deducted. Furthermore, students are also required to sign a behavioral contract acknowledging that they will lose their stipend privileges if they become involved with drugs or gangs, or if they are suspended.
In order to continue receiving their checks, students must provide their teachers with a stipend form to be signed once per month. This form allows for teachers to track the student’s progress and provides them with a regular opportunity to discuss classroom behavior and academics. Students must also provide a printed grade report from the school’s grading system. Once both of these forms are complete, they are sent to YOTO’s Program Coordinators, and students can expect to receive their stipend checks within two weeks.
YOTO’s Program Manager, Daniela Zasa, works closely with students and has seen the effects these stipends can have firsthand. Zasa says, “The stipend is the most important service that we offer, and it is the service that students utilize the most. It truly can mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out for some of our youth… for others, it is the first time they have ever been able to save money for their future. It can mean putting food on the table and paying rent. And sometimes, it can mean the ability to go to prom like the rest of their classmates.”
Homelessness and poverty can make high school an incredibly difficult experience for our students. Having some additional income can really change their quality of life and set them up for success in the future. Zasa also emphasizes that YOTO’s stipend service is especially meaningful because it shows students that someone is looking out for them. She says, “It symbolizes that we care what happens to them and we have faith in their future paths. It is quite powerful when one thinks about it in these terms.”