It takes enormous resolve for a young person experiencing homelessness to successfully pursue their education. Becoming a parent – during a pandemic – obviously adds another dimension of difficulty to an already precarious situation! Yet, this was the very situation faced by the 94 pregnant and parenting youth in the YOTO program last year. The optimism and courage these students show in the face of adversity is truly an inspiration to us all! Recently, we spoke with Grace, a new parent and YOTO student at Desert Rose Academy, to hear how the past year has been for her and what she hopes for the future.

The last year brought significant change for Grace. Not only did she become pregnant, she also faced the same COVID-related challenges we all did. Virtual learning, while helpful during her pregnancy, was difficult for her as it was for many students. As a young person on her own, Grace must work to pay rent and support herself. Unfortunately, like one in nine Americans, Grace contracted COVID. While her symptoms were mild, she was out of work for almost a month and lost out on much-needed income. “It was a really scary time,” Grace noted, “but with YOTO’s help, I was able to get through it.”

As a YOTO student, Grace was able to receive financial assistance. She got her monthly stipend for attending school, along with a few emergency COVID supplements, and an additional payment directed to pregnant and parenting youth. YOTO also provided her with a bus pass and access to transportation, making it easier for her to pick up basic needs supplies at the Mini Mall and to get to important appointments around town.

When her son was born, Grace was forced to make the tough decision to take a temporary break from school. “I was barely making it on my own… After I gave birth to my son, the responsibility of caring for him and putting a roof over his head became my main priority. I had to pause my education for a little while. This has led me to be further behind in school than I’d actually like to be,” Grace admitted.

Now, with a new school year around the corner, Grace is getting ready to head back to school, and she’s 100% committed to graduating: “I’ve been through so many ups and downs in my life and I’ve struggled so many times, but by finishing high school I’ll prove to myself that despite everything, I could still get my high school diploma! I’m also doing it for my son. I want him to know that no matter what comes his way, he can always do what he sets his heart to if he works hard enough.”

What does the future hold for Grace? After she graduates, she’d like to focus on building a solid foundation for her son. Once he’s in kindergarten, Grace plans to go to college to study English Literature. She loves writing and hopes to one day write a novel inspired by her life and experiences! In the meantime, we’ll all be cheering for Grace as she continues her high school journey. While YOTO will be there to lend a helping hand, Grace’s accomplishments are truly her own, thanks to her hard work, optimism, and persistence: “I have never felt more confident in my future than I do right now,” Grace shared, “and it honestly brings me to tears to think that a year ago I was nowhere near where I am now.”

If you’d like to support YOTO youth like Grace as they head back into the classroom, please consider contributing to YOTO’s Back to school Challenge by clicking the button below.

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