Youth On Their Own’s dedicated school liaisons are truly the backbone of our organization! During the school year, these committed volunteers work hard to identify and advocate on behalf of YOTO students while also building trusting, supportive relationships. Liaisons stay in touch with YOTO’s Program Coordinators to keep students updated on any changes to our procedures and encourage youth to reach out if they are in need of additional help.

This year we had the privilege of speaking with two extra special liaisons – Cassandra Rodriguez from Santa Rita High School and Lisa Atkins from Eastpointe High School – to see how the past year has been for YOTO youth at their schools.

For even the brightest YOTO students, virtual learning has been a challenge. There are the technological problems that come with having to do all classes via Zoom, like having an unreliable computer and Internet connection issues. Then there are the learning-related problems. As Cassandra shared, “[Students] couldn’t just walk into the office and ask for help! They couldn’t just informally ask their teachers questions in the middle of class when they needed clarification on something.” Many students found themselves having to learn how to communicate their needs differently with teachers, counselors, and school support staff, as well as figuring out how to advocate for themselves in a virtual environment.

Lisa added, “Working online has been such a struggle for some students. I’ve had to find level ground to push the ones who are learning virtually to make sure they are still making progress and getting their work done. But, I also want to make sure I’m not having to only push them, so they can do it on their own.”

Along with the liaisons, YOTO was there to help many youth experiencing homelessness during the school year. YOTO continues to provide students with a monthly stipend of up to $160 and an $80 COVID supplement; rent and bill assistance; basic needs necessities like food and hygiene products through the Mini Mall; and access to resources like healthcare.

According to Cassandra,

“What YOTO provides for students in a ‘regular’ year can be so critical to their success. What YOTO has provided for students during a year like this is immeasurable. It’s beyond anything financial. It has given our students the opportunity to still have hope and to still believe in themselves… It takes a village; and I am so grateful for all the ways that YOTO has supported our students this year.”

Eastpointe offered both in-person and virtual learning options this year. Of the six YOTO students attending the school, only two opted to go in person. One of those students, Lisa told us, made it to school every day since September despite experiencing several recent deaths in his family. However, because he was coming into the school each day, Lisa said she was able to check in on him often to see how he was doing and let him know she was there if he needed support.

With the school year over, there are still many reasons to celebrate! Three YOTO youth at Eastpointe were part of the graduating class of 2021. Among the graduates is a new father; his girlfriend is aiming to graduate this summer. At Santa Rita, a senior student that also became a new mother this year was able to graduate on time with the rest of her classmates. For all YOTO youth and especially those that are parenting, overcoming the odds in order to graduate is a huge achievement and we applaud their dedication to their education!

To all the amazing and caring school liaisons – like Lisa and Cassandra – in the YOTO Family, we thank you! You make such an incredible impact in the lives of YOTO youth each day and we are so grateful for everything you do!

CEO Elizabeth Slater discusses how YOTO is tearing down barriers to high school graduation in recent Great.com podcast