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.
Yes, it was yet another hot Texas summer but it was also so cool! It's hard to believe that "Youth Explosion 2016" has come and gone but it was great. This year we tried something a little bit different and we think that it will become the template for future conferences. In addition to having our usual topics about "consequences" both criminal and civil, we also decided to add a couple of segments on Life Skills. We were very pleased that The Home Depot (on Cambray) agreed to do hands-on demonstrations for the youths who attended the conference. And, we are thankful for the Texas A&M AgriLife Nutrition Program who talked to our kids about nutrition and exercise; we had a great time with their exercise pros who "Zumba-ed" with our youths (and volunteers and exhibitors). Exercise can be fun! In addition to the Youth Explosion we have continued to teach workshops this summer on various topics at homes and placements where we are invited. We also continue to teach "Self-Advocacy" at the "Aging Out" one-day seminars sponsored by the TDFPS Preparation for Adult Living Unit. What a COOL summer! (FYI: In my last blog post, I said something about needing a little more money for the conference. As usual, God DID provide! We are so blessed!)
It's May, really, it's May! I cannot believe how time has flown. We have been so busy with so many activities that . . . well, here we are, May! In February we were blessed to have hosted our 5th Sweet-Heart Dinner. We all had such a great time: the youths who attended danced to the fabulous music of Billy Ray Sheppard and the Main Event Band. In February and March it was plan, plan, plan because we decided to participate in the Valero Texas Open "Birdies for Charity" program (golf tournament in April) and The Big Give 2016 in May. Billy Ray Sheppard did a benefit concert for YTIA on May 8th (Mother's Day). We decided that the proceeds from all of these activities would be used to fund our "Youth Explosion 2016" in July! What a blessing! We did not receive what we need but again we know that the Lord "will supply all of our needs according to His riches" so we are not worried. We have enjoyed meeting new people and working with "our" youths. We just keep "movin' on" and doing what we know is God's will for our organization! Thanks to all of the financial and emotional support we receive from those who love us and YTIA.
"YTIA" had an exciting Fall/Winter season. We are starting off 2016 with a bang! We are actually looking for a new "home" that's a little bit bigger. We want to be able to have enough space to offer workshops "in house" as well as enough room to store our rapidly-growing materials. Please pray that we find a new home soon. In the Fall, we decided to participate in the Valero Texas Open "Birdies for Charity" Program, wherein we seek pledges from friends, colleagues, family, any interested person who wants to pledge at least a penny a "birdie" (which is one stroke under par for each hole on the course). Last year there were 2,103 birdies, which translated into $21.03, if a person pledged a penny per birdie. It sounded like fun but too many of our donors are deciding that it's just easier to give us a direct donation, for which we are not ungrateful! But, we are still in the program until the Valero Texas Open which happens April 18th to 24th. Upcoming really fast is our "5th Annual Sweet-Heart Dinner/Dance" which will be held at the Whitley Conference Center on Oblate on February 26th, our western-style supporter-thank-you and fundraiser. BillyRay Sheppard and the Main Event Band will provide fabulous music for this event. We have also decided to participate in "The Big Give SA 2016," the 24-hour day of giving that will happen on May 3rd. We are still offering workshops and participating in events whenever we are asked. Sounds like a lot of fundraising but as we grow, it costs more to keep our activities going (sounds just like a child growing up, doesn't it?) Eventually, we will be known well enough to raise enough money to build "The Dorm," our biggest dream. (And, we need a van! Does anyone know Ernesto Ancira?) But in the meantime, we are grateful for what God has given us, and will be happy just growing up and learning lots as we grow.
Mary E. Valdez is one of the co-founders of YTIA, an attorney with an interest in (hopefully) making things a little bit better.