On Tuesday, March 3, Youth On Their Own proudly hosted the 2020 “YOTO is Family” Spring Luncheon at the Tucson Convention Center! YOTO staff and volunteers eagerly greeted the nearly 500 guests who came out to recognize the amazing accomplishments of YOTO students and honor the exceptional individuals who have had such an immense impact on the lives of so many YOTO youth!
YOTO’s First “Ann Young Advocate for Youth Award”!
YOTO was founded in 1986 by Ann Young, a guidance counselor at Amphi High School, when she noticed that talented and motivated students were dropping out of school due to unstable living situations. In an effort to help those students graduate, Ann appealed to other school counselors, teachers, volunteers, and community members, laying the groundwork for the organization that would eventually become Youth On Their Own. Thirty-four years later, YOTO helps over 2,000 students experiencing homelessness each year!
To honor all that Ann has done for our youth, this year YOTO debuted the “Ann Young Advocate for Youth Award.” This prize will be awarded each year at our luncheon to an individual or group that has had a significant impact on the lives of YOTO youth. In its inaugural year, the award was given to none other than Ann Young herself. “It was so humbling [to receive this award]. I’m so surprised!” said Ann afterward. “I am thrilled and happy to have such wonderful people in my life and at YOTO!”
Ann, you are truly an inspiration. Thank you for changing so many lives for the better! To learn more about YOTO’s history in Ann’s own words, click here.
YOTO Liaison of the Year Award
School liaisons are the foundation of YOTO’s program. They are YOTO’s points of contact at each school, advocating on behalf of the students they support. School liaisons identify students in need, collect monthly stipend forms, distribute basic needs items, and much more. They do all this in addition to their normal school responsibilities and without being paid by YOTO. If it were not for the unwavering commitment of school liaisons, YOTO’s program could simply not run effectively.
At this year’s event, we honored Judy Rubin from Desert View High School as YOTO’s Liaison of the Year! Being a school liaison is very meaningful to Judy. She enjoys providing services to students and she sees firsthand how YOTO makes a difference in their lives. Upon receiving her award, Judy said, “I feel so honored! It means a lot to me to know that there are so many liaisons out there doing the same thing I’m doing. It’s very nice, and I appreciate it.” Congratulations, Judy!
YOTO Volunteer of the Year Award
Volunteers have been the heart and soul of YOTO from the very beginning. Among other duties, YOTO volunteers staff our reception area, stock our Mini Mall, make weekly deliveries to schools, and prepare students’ stipend checks. In 2018-2019, volunteers collectively donated 9,338 hours of their time and saved YOTO over $230,000!
This year, the award for Volunteer of the Year was presented to Lori Dallman. Lori has been a YOTO volunteer since 2014, longer than most of YOTO’s staff have been around! When asked what she likes best about being a volunteer, Lori replied “I like volunteering at YOTO because I truly believe in the cause. I can see how truly grateful the students are when they come into the Mini Mall. Not long ago, I met a former YOTO student in a professional capacity. She is now in her 30’s and has her own successful business. Her story made every hour that I spend at YOTO well worth it!” Thank you for your hard work and dedication, Lori!
YOTO Volunteer Group of the Year Award
Volunteer groups also play an integral part in YOTO’s operations. Typically, these are members of a school, club, religious organization, or company who would like to give a few hours of their time to help YOTO youth. These groups assemble packages, write inspirational notes to students, hold food or school supply drives, and more!
This year, the award for Volunteer Group of the Year was given to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (DMAFB) for their enthusiastic support of YOTO. In the past year, DMAFB has helped YOTO package blankets for the “Spread the Warmth” donation drive, set up for events, write inspirational notes to YOTO students to accompany their stipend checks, and bag Tide pods. In fact, DMAFB was announced as YOTO’s 2nd Annual Socktober Challenge winner last November! In addition to collecting more socks than all the other participating groups, DMAFB coordinated a memorable and awe-inspiring parachute jump with a 500-pound barrel filled with 1,367 pairs of socks!
Senior Master Sergeant Robert Redziniak shared his thoughts on why YOTO means so much, both to DMAFB, and to him:
“For me, DMAFB wouldn’t be the same without the YOTO family because it ties into my story with being a homeless youth trying to graduate high school. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my community’s generous support when I needed it the most.
The Airmen on Davis-Monthan AFB are amazing, have the biggest hearts, and are always excited to help out YOTO when an opportunity presents itself. Our Airmen come from all walks of life and each one of them have incredible stories on how they overcame hardships to get to where they are. My favorite part of volunteering with these Airmen is hearing why they want to help out YOTO. Their stories aren’t much different than those who are currently being assisted by YOTO and they feel connected to its mission at their very core. The military and Tucson community has given us so much to be thankful for and we are grateful for the opportunity to give back and help the next generation be successful in life.
Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your incredible family. And thank you for helping out so many teens who deserve the opportunity to not have to worry about socks or other necessities so they can focus on graduating high school and being successful in life, whether it’s the Air Force or college.”
To everyone at DMAFB, we thank you for your service, your courage, and for being such an integral part of the YOTO Family!
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Airmen pose with YOTO staff and the 500-pound barrel full of socks after the November 2019 parachute jump.
Volunteers, Students and Board Members share “Why I’m a Member of the YOTO Family”
The ever-expanding YOTO Family is made up of students, staff, volunteers, school liaisons, donors, members of the local media and business communities, and more! Every single person who has supported YOTO has done their part to make it possible for youth experiencing homelessness to graduate high school and pursue their dreams!
YOTO volunteer and retired educator, Jim Bowen shared why he and his wife Pat love YOTO. Jim and Pat have been volunteering as Caring Couriers since the program began in 2017. Caring Couriers deliver bags of food, toiletries, and school supplies to YOTO schools throughout Pima County every Wednesday. Once a month, these deliveries also include stipend checks for students who maintain good attendance and grades. Both Jim and Pat had experiences in their youth that make YOTO a very personal cause to them. Jim lived on his own during his last two years of high school. He was fortunate to receive support and direction from his high school principal who helped him stay on track and, eventually, inspired Jim to pursue a career in education. Pat grew up in Michigan, but as a teenager moved to Tucson to live with relatives. Jim and Pat met when Jim was in the Air Force at Davis-Monthan. Jim reflected, “In a way, being on our own brought us together.”
Jim closed by saying,
“Many YOTO kids have stories of instability and loss. But like Pat and I, they also have stories of success, accomplishment, and joy. We hope that like us, they find someone or something that inspires them to become the people they want to be. We love being part of an organization that help makes that happen.”
YOTO Volunteers Jim and Pat Bowen
Vibrant and spirited YOTO alumna, Rashel Olalde, shared her story of overcoming the obstacles of being homeless in high school. Her experience challenged her, but with the help of YOTO, her school liaison, and her own tenacity, she was able to graduate! Rashel is currently attending the University of Arizona and majoring in Family Studies and Human Development. Late last year, Rashel collaborated with YOTO’s CEO Elizabeth Slater on an op-ed featured in the Washington Post on housing insecurity among homeless college students during school breaks. Rashel is currently advocating for stable, accessible university housing for homeless students during times when school dorms are closed. With her past experience informing her future goals, Rashel spoke about her dream to one day become the CEO of Youth On Their Own – to which she received a resounding round of applause!
YOTO Alumna, Rashel Olalde (right), stands with YOTO CEO, Elizabeth Slater.
Finally, YOTO Board Member Sean Denlinger remarked about his experience growing up with a single mother and four brothers and the hardships and stress he and his family faced, and the importance of focusing on our kids.
As Sean said,
“Our kids need to be worrying about their grades, their homework, their futures – not where to eat and who to talk to when it feels like there isn’t anyone in their corner. I want to help young people experiencing these feelings of loneliness or helplessness be empowered. I want young people today to have a better chance to get ahead.”
Thank you, Jim, Rashel, and Sean, for sharing why you are members of the YOTO Family!
At every YOTO luncheon, we appeal to our YOTO Family to help us ease some of the burdens our youth face. We issue a special challenge to everyone in the audience – make a gift to YOTO before Friday, March 13 and steadfast YOTO supporters Buzz Petersen and Robbie Willingham will match it dollar-for-dollar up to $50,000!
If you haven’t done so already, make your gift towards our match here!
The delightful event ended on an upbeat note with a message from the YOTO Ambassadors. They thanked everyone for attending the luncheon, for being part of the YOTO family, and for helping thousands of YOTO students graduate over the past 34 years.
To everyone in the YOTO family, we appreciate you for always stepping up when we call. Our CEO, Elizabeth Slater, said it best, “The YOTO Family represents acceptance, kindness, and unconditional support for our students. As a member of our family, you are an integral part of the support structure that helps students overcome the odds and turn their dreams into realities.”