Before the pandemic struck, Youth On Their Own (YOTO) had planned to use TEP funds to throw a graduation party for top seniors and those receiving further scholarship support from the organization.

Instead, YOTO will be using TEP’s donation to provide stipends to the homeless youth who need this support now more than ever.

“COVID-19 has significantly affected youth experiencing homelessness. At Youth On Their Own, we’re providing these teens with basic needs and helping them stay enrolled in school. This emergency funding is ensuring that these youth are safe, fed, and healthy this summer so they are able to return to school in the fall,” said Elizabeth Slater, YOTO’s CEO.

Each year, between 350 and 400 students experiencing homelessness reach their goal of high school graduation with the support of YOTO, which operates a dropout prevention program serving Pima County’s homeless teens.

Earlier this year, TEP gave a $10,000 donation to YOTO. TEP is a longtime community sponsor of the nonprofit group. Additionally, our volunteers, including Mark Cline and retiree Tom Hoyt, have provided guidance and financial oversight for the organization.

Of those funds, $6,000 was designated for stipends for 37 students who stay in school and get good grades. Each student receives $160 a month.

Another $3,000 was intended for the graduation party – especially important since these students typically don’t have their own family celebrations. Because of the party cancelation, YOTO instead will give an additional 20 stipends to students as they finish up this school year.

“Most of us are sensitive to the unusual circumstances of this year’s graduating high school seniors,” said Wendy Erica Werden, Manager of Community Investment and Philanthropy. “To me, it’s unimaginable being a homeless teen and facing those same circumstances. Hopefully, these stipends will help incentivize them to stay in school while covering their basic needs through this pandemic.”

The final $1,000 of TEP’s donation will be directed to YOTO’s annual fall event this October.

Slater said the pandemic has been especially hard on these students, who often have to work to support themselves, but have been out of jobs. Many don’t qualify for stimulus checks or other aid.

“Financial assistance is the most important help we provide to our students,” Slater said. “It is the most flexible source of support and it gives dignity to youth by putting resources directly in their control.”

Learn more about YOTO and ways to support the group.

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