Have you ever wondered how Youth On Their Own supports youth experiencing homelessness? Who works on the frontlines to actually assist youth? The answer: YOTO’s amazing team of Program Coordinators (PCs)! Our PC Team is made up of the most resourceful, dedicated, and caring individuals you’ll find! They provide one-on-one support to YOTO youth, impacting lives in very real and tangible ways. Marianna, a 2020 YOTO graduate, had this to say about her Program Coordinator, Jessica Cornidez: “Jessica has really been very helpful! She’s helped me find resources and she’s paid attention to the things that I need. She is only a phone call or email away if I need anything!”
Typically, PCs work closely with volunteer school liaisons – the teachers and counselors who volunteer to administer YOTO’s program in their schools – to identify and connect with youth experiencing homelessness. PCs work largely outside the office, visiting schools, meeting with YOTO students in person, and figuring out ways to help YOTO youth solve problems.
PC Rachel Kahn shared with us a little more about the role:
“A lot of what we do is work with youth to navigate different systems such as signing up for food stamps, finding emergency shelter, and connecting with the healthcare system. For high school seniors, we provide specific support discussing post-graduation plans and going through college applications, helping with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), job applications, housing options, etc.”
PC Justin Hopkins added, “We have students who would intentionally and specifically make weekly visits to the YOTO office or would anxiously wait for our arrival at their schools because we are that caring and consistent adult in their life who they can trust and confide in.”
The recent COVID pandemic has brought with it an entirely new set of challenges for YOTO students and PCs to overcome. When COVID rates began to surge throughout the state in the spring, schools closed; YOTO’s PC were no longer able to meet with students and school liaisons in person. The PC Team quickly adapted in order to ensure our students’ safety. According to Jessica, “COVID has made all of my interactions with students virtual.” Jessica notes that PCs still provide all of the same services they did before to YOTO youth, but now connections are made via phone, text, email, and even video calls!
Despite COVID, YOTO’s PCs have continued helping students experiencing homelessness. For example, Rachel recently helped a student who had lost his job due to COVID. The student had been applying to other jobs and filing for pandemic unemployment assistance each week, but hadn’t received any money. When bills were due at the end of the month, he struggled to cover everything. Rachel worked with the student to apply for emergency bill assistance, and YOTO was able to provide relief by covering his rent check!
YOTO’s PCs do a stellar job motivating kids facing tough times, but what motivates the PCs? For Justin, it’s seeing youth make progress, overcome challenges, and succeed:
“Having the opportunity to invest in youth and assist them with navigating through life is so rewarding. Youth deserve to be heard! They are often overlooked and undermined because of their age, the decisions they make, their level of maturity, and their lack of experiences. The fact is, many adults don’t understand and don’t take the time to get an understanding of what these youth are going through. I feel that we Program Coordinators are the adults who listen and try to understand.”
Program Coordinators are undeniably an integral part of everything that YOTO does. Every PC would agree with Rachel, who calls it a privilege to work with the students in our program: “They are navigating through some really tough times, yet their resilience, hopes, and dreams shine through!”
To all of YOTO’s Program Coordinators, THANK YOU for your dedication to helping youth experiencing homelessness in our community!
To learn more about how YOTO and the PC team is adapting to help youth experiencing homelessness this school year, check out our recent article here. If you’re inspired by the awesome work our Program Coordinators do, consider making a donation in honor of YOTO’s PC Team – we know they’d appreciate it!
YOTO’s Emergency Fund will continue to offer essential assistance to YOTO youth during COVID-19 and throughout the school year! Make a donation today and you’ll be helping YOTO students overcome barriers, meet their needs, and focus their attention back on their education where it belongs! You can also help us Restock the Mini Mall to ensure our kids have all the food, hygiene items, and household products they need to return to school!
Please note: YOTO staff is working remotely; offices remain closed to the public.