We have all seen a couple of tough years (and I'm not really sure it's over yet) but we've got to "keep on, keepin' on". It's not easy, but nothing in this life ever seems too easy. We were created because we see big, beautiful, wonderful things in the future for our kids in care but we need to help them as much as we can. Years ago UTSA got ready and made us a "plan" for what we hope will soon become "The Dorm". So often (too often, if you ask me) YTIA gets a call about a youth, now out of care, who needs a place to live. We'd like to help but we can't. Now that we have all gotten through the worst of the pandemic stuff (we hope), now is the time to get going again. We have to re-group, re-boot, or whatever else you want to call it but we're not done. We can't settle for what we have accomplished in the past; that's over; yesterday ended last night. We've just got to "keep on, keepin' on". And, by God's grace we will do it!
We have all been affected by the effects of the COVID pandemic, some harder than others, but YTIA is still here. And grateful to still be here. We are determined to show young people that we were created for, and we are still here, to help young people make their way out of foster care, We realize that it's hard to trust anyone because while you were in foster care, you have just been handed over from foster home to foster home, or residential placement to residential placement, but we are just here waiting. We will wait for as long as it takes. To those youths who have reached out, we hope that our answers have been helpful to you and that you have been able to find your way; thanks for trusting us. We don't always know all the answers but we will do our best to try to point you in the right direction. We are here to help support you, if you let us. Not by force, not by our will, you choose when you need us!
2020 was a tough year for all of us but there's no looking back. To our friends, family, and colleagues who have touched, some harder than others by this pandemic, we say our condolences and pray for a better 2021. But, as we all know, life must go on. By God's grace, YTIA has been able to continue to work with youths and help change the lives of some. We will continue our service to foster youths in 2021. Because of the grant we received in 2020 from City Education Partners we were able to buy Zoom services so that we can continue to interact with youths in care and, God willing, that will continue as long as necessary in 2021. We may not have collected much money in 2020 but what we received was enough for us to be grateful, and enough to keep us going. Thank you so much to our faithful donors. We are thankful that YTIA has continued to exist and grow over the past 11 years and we pray that we will continue to grow and continue to "bridge the gap for youths leaving foster care." Happy 2021!
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.
Mary E. Valdez is one of the co-founders of YTIA, an attorney with an interest in (hopefully) making things a little bit better.