Deja Foxx is a force to be reckoned with. At just 20 years old, this activist, organizer, Ivy League student, founder of GenZ Girl Gang, and an Influencer and Surrogate Strategist and youngest staffer on a presidential campaign has big plans to change the world for the better and become the future POTUS – and she is already well on her way.

At fifteen years old, Deja experienced housing insecurity, or “hidden homelessness”, while attending high school in Tucson. Hidden homelessness describes individuals who are temporarily living with others – usually family or friends – or “couch-surfing”. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many YOTO students. To make ends meet, Deja worked at a local gas station taking on the 5:30am to 2:00pm shift on weekends and 3:30pm to 10:00pm shift on weekdays after school.

Deja was introduced to Youth On Their Own (YOTO) in her sophomore year of high school by her school liaison. Once she enrolled, Deja was assigned a YOTO Program Coordinator and was given access to the various programs and services YOTO had to offer. In a recent interview with this bright young woman, she shared some of her insights and experiences about her time as a YOTO student.

One of the biggest things that helped me when I was a YOTO student was the monthly stipends. The way I always saw it was that this $140 translates to 14 minimum wage hours that I would otherwise have to work. That was 14 hours a month that I got to rest, or be a normal teenager with my friends, or work on homework and make sure I was keeping my grades up to go to a school that I wanted to go to. In that way, it was this very tangible thing. That $140 made it possible for me to have those other experiences outside of work.

Another service that Deja found useful was YOTO’s Mini Mall:

I would go in there and get food for the house I was living in, just to contribute. I also got things that I could not buy with food stamps, like tampons and toilet paper; those sorts of things were really helpful. I just wanted to feel like I was contributing to the house that I was living in. I also wanted to make sure I had the things I needed to take care of myself and not impose any burden.

Deja graduated high school in 2018 and was accepted to Columbia University. On top of receiving a full-ride scholarship from the university, Deja was also a YOTO Scholarship recipient. She explained that the YOTO Scholarship was helpful in covering any loose ends that came up, such as books. She reflected,

When I left for college, YOTO gave me such a safety net… I went in there without worrying and that gave me so much room to not only survive at a school like Columbia, but to really thrive. My first year I was a straight ‘A’ student, I was on the Dean’s List both semesters. It helped me transition. That stability made the transition even easier.

Fast-forward to a few days before Deja’s twentieth birthday in mid-April. She recalls reminiscing about her teen years, thinking about how quickly she went from being a YOTO student and working at the gas station to being an Ivy League student and working on a presidential campaign. She thought about how she was able to create social mobility for herself and how she wanted to help other people so that they may have the same opportunities to realize their potential. “I just thought YOTO had been such a big part of helping me… YOTO gave me that push, that stability to get my foot in the door and get myself moving. I just wanted to give back.”

Deja decided to tap into some of her strengths – storytelling, relationship building, organizing, and connecting people to causes they care about – and mobilize her almost 18,800 social media followers in order to host a 24-hour birthday fundraiser to help YOTO students in need by contributing to the COVID-19 Emergency Fund. Incredibly, Deja’s fundraising effort was able to raise an astounding $2,400!

With an initial goal of $1000, the final fundraising total exceeded her expectations. “I was definitely surprised at how much I raised and really impressed and grateful for the resource-rich environment I have been able to build around myself,” she shared.

At YOTO, we believe in the importance of investing in the education of youth experiencing homelessness in order to equip them for future success. Deja is proof-positive for what that type of investment can look like. She acknowledges,

I wouldn’t be where I am today if others had not invested in me. I owe so much to the communities, families and individuals who had seen my potential, invested in it, and pushed me to be better. I expect to be returning on that investment. Whether it is giving back in ways like this [the birthday fundraiser], or continuing to do good work, or going further to be a role model for other people. I recognize the way other people have invested in me. It is my responsibility to invest in others, especially young women of color from backgrounds like mine – homeless or independent youth.

This perspective on the chain reaction of investing in the success of others who, when they are capable, can then go on to help others in their community guides Deja’s current advocacy and activism efforts. She explains that the core mission of the organization she founded, GenZ Girl Gang, is to help people see and understand that their success is tied to the success of others.

With the days of housing insecurity behind her, Deja has some advice for youth experiencing homelessness today:

Keep pushing. Things are always unfolding as they should. Even if it is not clear to you now. There is a lesson in all of this. Those are mantras that I held really close to me when I was struggling. A message of faith, of limitless possibility, things can get better and better than you can ever expect.

The YOTO Family wishes to thank Deja for her kindness and tireless generosity in helping others, especially youth experiencing homelessness here in her hometown. We wish this ambitious young woman every single success imaginable. We have the utmost faith in her and know this is just the beginning of her story. We will ALL be rooting her on as we watch her soar.

If you’d like to connect with Deja on her journey, you can follow her on Instagram @dejafoxx or check out her website

Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez: from Flowing Wells High School to Ivy League Graduate, Wells Fargo Analyst, and TED Talk Speaker
The YOTO Family Shines During These Difficult Times