Youth On Their Own Moves to New “Forever Home” at 2525 N Country Club Rd
After years of planning and construction, Youth On Their Own (YOTO) – the local Tucson nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless youth in Pima County graduate from high school – has finally cut the ribbon at their “forever home”. The organization purchased the two-building property in January of 2022 and has since been renovating and transforming the space previously occupied by the Southwest University of Visual Arts (SUVA) before being left vacant in 2019.
When explaining the organization’s reasons for moving, YOTO CEO Elizabeth Slater noted, “After 37 years in Tucson and nearly a decade at our Alvernon campus, we simply had neither the space nor the infrastructure to continue serving youth with the quality and efficiency they need and deserve. When we moved to our prior location, only a few hundred youth were enrolled in the YOTO program. Now we’re serving 1,500 young people every year. We owe it to YOTO youth to make sure that when they show up for themselves, we’re ready and able to show up for them too!”
The new YOTO campus offers 54% more space for programming, supply storage, and youth services than the organization’s previous property, including a much larger “Mini Mall” where youth shop for free food and basic needs items, as well as a brand new Alumni Center for high school graduates to prepare for their future. With such an increase in area, plus a much more youth-friendly layout, Slater says that the organization considers this the last big move they’ll be making in the foreseeable future: “We’re calling this our forever home because we anticipate being able to grow and adapt in this space for decades to come. YOTO has already evolved so much since its founding. We can’t wait to see what the future holds, both for our organization and for our youth. We’re overjoyed to finally be in a space where we can adequately support YOTO youth as they go on to create the lives they dream for themselves.”
Youth On Their Own (YOTO) was founded in 1986 by then Amphitheater High School counselor Ann Young. Throughout her career, Young and her fellow educators watched unaccompanied teens leave high school to take care of financial and familial obligations that, through no fault of these youth, had become obstacles to their graduation and success. In particular, Young noted that youth experienced homelessness and housing insecurity at alarming rates. She shared that her reasons for starting Youth On Their Own sprang from her desire to find a more sustainable way to address the problem:
“My husband and I were licensed foster parents and regularly had unaccompanied youth staying in our home. Eventually, Dick said to me, ‘Ann, you’ve got to find another way,’ so my colleagues and I started thinking about how we could help these kids. Coincidentally, my local church was holding a meeting to discuss how to help the homeless. I told Dick, ‘I’m going to that meeting and telling them about homeless youth.’ My church invited me to speak at three services in one day, and in that one day we raised over $80,000! That’s when I realized that if we got organized and dedicated ourselves to this mission, we could do more to help these young people stay in school and make a real difference in their lives.”
In the years since, YOTO has grown to serve more and more youth in increasingly more effective ways. When measuring success, the organization considers the graduation rate among YOTO seniors – currently 86% – to be the most indicative of the program’s efficacy. YOTO CEO Slater remarks, “We’re absolutely thrilled to see the graduation rate among YOTO youth so high. We know how many obstacles they face as they try to navigate high school, housing insecurity, and the transition into adulthood. They are truly amazing, inspiring young people, and we’re incredibly proud to have the chance to work with them.”
Arizona ranks poorly in educational indicators. According to the University of Arizona’s MAP Dashboard, the state’s four-year high school graduation rate in 2020 sank to 49th out of 50, with only 77.3% of young people graduating from high school on time. Pima County’s graduation rate ranked last among all eleven Arizona counties, coming in at only 70.7%.
Commenting on the need for more resources for high school youth, Amphi High School Assistant Principal Glenda Arffa noted, “Pima County high schools do not have adequate resources to support the broad range of personal needs of students, especially when those students are on their own. We want all our students to succeed, and we know we can’t do it alone. Community organizations, like YOTO, and the support of our school district foundations make it possible for us to give the extra support that some of our students need to attend school regularly, and to ensure that students show up fed and ready to learn.”
Despite the challenges faced by youth, YOTO CEO Slater is grateful for the support and encouragement provided by the Southern Arizona community: “YOTO wouldn’t be what it is today without the many, many people, businesses, organizations, and more who have come together to support these youth. It’s truly astounding to be part of such a community-driven effort, and to know that what we do makes a real difference in the lives of thousands of people each year. I have so much gratitude in my heart for everyone who has been part of this YOTO Family!”
Youth On Their Own’s campus is now located at 2525 N Country Club Rd (the west side of Country Club, just north of Grant). Open houses will be held from 10am to 2pm on three Saturdays: November 11th, November 18th, and December 2nd. No RSVP is necessary, and all community members are welcome to attend.