If you have a little time to spare this weekend, you can help volunteers with local roofing and construction companies build better futures for homeless students at the Raising the Roof for Youth On Their Own 11th Annual Charity Bowling Tournament and Silent Auction.
“Not only does this support a great charity, but it is a fun day with the bowling and the silent auction and the prizes, so it is a win-win for everyone,” said Donna Maynard, manager of Allied Building Products and co-chair with Sam Brush and Martin Headlee of the fundraiser that begins at 11 a.m. Saturday at Golden Pin Lanes, 1010 W. Miracle Mile.
“Youth On Their Own is fantastic. We have people who have participated in the past who are ready to sign up for a lane every year — one roofer was out of town this year, but he still wanted to support the charity so he signed up for a lane anyway,”
Staged by the Arizona Roofing Contractors Association, the tournament has raised more than $170,000 in the past 10 years for Youth On Their Own, or YOTO, which is dedicated to helping homeless youth graduate from high school by providing financial help, basic needs and guidance.
It is a population that many people still don’t realize exists, Brush said.
“Until we got involved, I never realized that there were so many kids who are homeless. Then you hear the stories of the kids in the program and you find out their parents are incarcerated or on drugs or have left them, and if not for Youth On Their Own, they would be on drugs or involved in prostitution or dead,” Brush said.
During the 2013-14 school year, the nonprofit served 1,200 students in grades six through 12, and the number continues to grow each year, according to YOTO Executive Director Teresa Baker.
“The homeless youth population grows so fast that it is beyond our ability to keep up with it. Pima County statistics in December 2012 indicated there were 4,000 homeless, at-risk local youth. In December 2013, statistics indicated there were more that 5,600 in that demographic, and that doesn’t include a forecast for the new group of immigrant and refugee kids that will be somewhat absorbed into the community that come over the border. Keeping all of these kids in school is vital to a community’s well-being and economic development,” Baker said.
YOTO recently began targeting another fast-growing segment of that demographic: Middle school students in grades six through eight. Like their high school counterparts, many of these children deal with physical, sexual or substance abuse or violence in their homes or with issues such as poverty, abandonment or neglect that may result in placement in foster care.
“The process of dropping out of high school begins after fifth grade. If you are a kid in a compromised home environment with no accountability and no leadership in your family, the drop-out process begins when you hit middle school and have more autonomy and your peers become more powerful,” Baker said.
“We want to focus on the triage piece and not wait until they are in cardiac arrest, so to speak, in high school to try and save them.”
As with its program for high school students, YOTO is promoting prevention for younger students through accountability in the form of monthly stipends ($25 for middle school and up to $140 for high school) to encourage good grades and regular school attendance.
“These kids have the ability to earn a stipend for their grades every month and receive special needs services, and they are being mentored and guided by someone they are accountable to. The stipend is a proven motivator for kids to stay in school and be accountable,” Baker said.
Baker said the stipends are made possible through grants, donations raised by third-party fundraisers and community support from individuals, businesses, organizations and civic groups.
“We don’t have the luxury of receiving one lump sum from the federal government. We earn every single penny that supports our program. The challenge for our program is the fact that we earn all of the money through grants, gifts and donations,” she said.
“We don’t know how many kids we can support because we don’t know how much we will earn, but our goal is to never turn a kid away. If we need the money, we will do our best to go out and find it.”