By Jackie James

Imagine you are graduating from high school: A pretty big day in your life, right? You worked hard, studied, got adequate sleep, ate well, and maintained nurturing relationships with friends and family to achieve this goal. Now imagine having to navigate homework, tests, and social stressors to reach the same goal, except you are a homeless teen. Not only do you have to keep up with the challenges of school but add in not knowing where you are going to sleep for the night, not having access to technology, not knowing where your next meal is going to come from and the challenges may seem insurmountable. Graduating from high school and figuring out life beyond school seems like an impossible climb. Thankfully, Youth on Their Own, a non-profit organization based in Tucson, makes it their mission to assist homeless and unaccompanied youth to achieve their graduation aspirations.

Eligible participants in the Youth on Their Own program must be under age 22, enrolled in a Pima County middle school or high school in grades 6th through 12th, and be homeless through no fault of their own. Many of the participants’ parents are incarcerated, deported, deceased, or unable to care for their children, leaving them to fend for themselves.

At Youth on Their Own, these homeless teens can work towards their future, knowing someone is in their corner. YOTO is there to provide the resources necessary to keep kids in school, including individualized guidance, financial assistance, and even help with everyday basic needs. In addition to giving referrals for housing, medical, dental, and vision care, and personal counseling, students in the program can qualify for a cash stipend, as well as transportation services. By collaborating with social service and healthcare organizations, YOTO has the ability to assist homeless youth to become self-sustaining adults.

Of all the services that YOTO offers, the College and Career Program is the one that can truly help a student with their future plans. After high school, many students have aspirations to work or attend college, but get lost in the details. The College and Career Program is set up to help these future graduates with assistance in determining their skill sets, and potential career paths; help with job placement preparation, including heightening interviewing skills, resume preparation, and application completion, as well as assistance with pursuing scholarships and other educational opportunities.

YOTO’s methods have made a difference, assisting almost 1900 homeless youths this school year alone. Students enrolled in the Youth on Their Own program have a graduation rate of over 85 percent, and 327 students graduated in the 2017-18 school year with even more projected success stories this year. Youth on Their Own is grateful for assistance from the community, and uses the funds it receives towards financial stipends for students, bus passes, and emergency assistance funds, just to name a few.

If you would like to learn more about how you can help, or to learn more about the YOTO events, contact Bethany Neumann, YOTO’s Director of Development, at (520) 545-0598 or You can also log onto for additional information.

Are you, or someone you know a homeless Pima County youth in need of guidance to get through high school? To see if you are a candidate for the YOTO programs, contact your school liaison to start the process and then keep your goals in sight!