It has not been easy. This pandemic has really changed the way we do things: we cannot have in-person communications with youths in care, we cannot provide in-person workshops, and we cannot raise much-needed funds for the organization to keep our programs going. But, in spite of it all, God is good and has kept us going. At the end of June, we started "Let's Talk Thursdays" from noon to 1:00 pm and those "chats" have been pretty interesting. While it can be difficult to get the word out, those youths who participated told us that they learned a few new things. So that makes everything worthwhile. We will be changing the date and time for our "chats" with youths but we will continue to host them as long as they are well-received; and, so far, so good. We created a couple of videos that we hope will help our older youths as they transition from foster care into independence and will be uploading those to our YouTube channel. We will keep creating more videos with a view to helping our kids get ready for the future. We are blessed (in spite of COVID-19)!
The pandemic has put a little crimp in our style since, because of social distancing, we are not able to host workshops or other events, but you can't keep a good organization down! YTIA was created to assist youths as they transition out of foster care and that process is still continuing. We are so blessed to be able to talk things through with young people who call us who just want someone to listen, or to offer an idea that they didn't think about. But now we are even more blessed to be able to use video conferencing to "see" each other. Thanks to a grant from City Education Partners, we are now even more involved in technology than ever before. There's always a silver lining to every dark cloud and we found it, thanks to CEP. We are learning a lot but hopefully we will be offering some fabulous short videos soon!
We could not possibly let 2019 end without thanking our ever-growing supporters. Not only have you all shared the love by providing for us financially but so many of you have offered to help us and you pray for us, for which we are so grateful. We are so glad that we have been able to share our experiences with the youths we serve, so that you have an even better understanding of why we even exist in the first place. We are confident that by God's grace and with your continued support we will achieve even more in 2020. Thank You!
We are officially 10 years old (our anniversary was October 13th) and as we grow, we find that there is more and more need among the young people we serve. Years ago, the State legislature authorized tuition-free post-high school education at State-supported colleges and universities. There was some concern voiced, however, because it appeared that very few of the youths leaving foster care actually took advantage of this tremendous opportunity. Sadly, no one stopped to think that maybe the young people were being told that this benefit was available but not how to actually prepare to use it. Did you know that many youths in high school are not aware of the steps that are needed to get themselves ready to: apply for college, take an entrance exam, or how to even search for a school? YTIA saw that need and we are now addressing it. In September we began offering our "Pre-College Prep" Workshops. Each youth who attends gets a binder chock full of valuable information including step-by-step timelines for each high school year, as well as suggestions for other necessary preparations (how to write a request for a letter of recommendation, and work on a resume, among other things). Our workshops even show youths how to take advantage of programs offered at local junior colleges that can lead to a license or certificate for a trade, if the youth does not necessarily want to obtain a degree. We are excited to report that we are seeing the "light bulb" turn on for so many of the youths who have attended. We are going to keep on offering these workshops every semester, with a summer event to make it even more meaningful for high school seniors, AND, if we need to hand-hold during Orientation we are going to do that too, for as many youths as ask us to. Please pray for this endeavor -- we know it's worth it! Remember: "Education is Key, Knowledge (not necessarily College) is Power".
Earlier this year two of our Board members applied for a grant AND we got it! Okay so the grant is not huge but it will help us buy some much-needed equipment and help us expand our workshops. We are excited and encouraged. We are blessed to be able to work with the youths we serve and we hope that this will be a learning experience so that we can become even better at what we do. Our fifth, yes, fifth, Youth Explosion is coming up in July and we are also hoping to expand that event. The youths who attend give us positive feedback so we want to reach as many as we can. We are working on more publications because the three that we have produced so far have been well received, not only by the workers who share them but the youths themselves are finding them useful -- that always feels great. We continue to covet your prayers as we move onward and upward!
Yesterday was Valentine's day and love was in the air. YTIA is feeling the love this year, and it's on more than just one day. This is the 10th year of our existence (Happy Anniversary to us!) and we are working hard to engage our community in what we are doing. YTIA was formed to assist youths in care but this is not just our responsibility; the responsibility for ensuring that our next generation is prepared to take the reins is everyone's responsibility. We love that more people are becoming aware of the plight of our youths, and we are grateful for the support and love that we are feeling. When I first starting writing this blog (it seems like forever ago) I was using the analogy of a baby learning to crawl and then walk. We are now in our pre-teen years and we are becoming more and more aware of our self and starting to really "become". We look forward to many more years of doing what we love. Thanks, everyone, for helping us "feel the love".
As 2018 draws to a close, we reflect on how blessed we have been through the year. We have been privileged to teach workshops on a variety of topics at different locations, we worked with the UTSA College of Architecture again whose students are so committed to seeing us eventually build "The Dorm," and we have had fun with the youths we serve. This past Saturday it was our privilege to teach about food safety and to bake cookies. The commitment of our youths to learn and to care about food safety was evident as they reminded each other to change their gloves and aprons when necessary, and the laughter and joy that we all shared was so infectious and gratifying. It was three hours of controlled chaos but so worth it. Kids are kids and they teach us, too, about making the best of a not-so-good situation (most kids would certainly rather be home than in foster care); we learn something and continue to be blessed.
As 2017 comes to a close, we reflect and think how busy we were but also how satisfying it is to know that we have helped even one youth who is determined to make his or her way in the world. In 2017 we had some very successful events and some not so successful ones but all in all we feel God is expecting us to persevere. As we begin 2018, we have big hopes and dreams, not only to continue to assist youths leaving foster care, but making our vision for YTIA become a reality: the purchase of the property for "The Dorm". Pray for us as we continue to grow.
Can you believe it? A year has passed since I last wrote about our progress. Well, I am happy to report that we are slowing gaining momentum. We continue to offer workshops, advice (when asked), and support to our youths. People are starting to notice what we are doing and we are forming new alliances with other nonprofits who are also working with youths in care. While we are happy about this progress, and happy that the youths are finally able to distinguish us from others (we had often been confused with P.A.L., the Preparation for Adult Living program offered through CPS, since we work with them a lot), we now find that we have a serious need ourselves. We need an office and/or land to construct "The Dorm". Every year that goes by we find out about youths who really need a place to transition from foster care to independence. Too many of our youths are ending up at homeless shelters and this truly saddens us. We need a benefactor with a heart, a big heart for youths leaving care. If anyone knows of someone who might be willing to donate an office (for now) or land, please get in touch. In the meantime, we'll still keep praying, doing what we are meant to do, and keep growing.
Mary E. Valdez is one of the co-founders of YTIA, an attorney with an interest in (hopefully) making things a little bit better.