TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Meet Rashel Olalde. She is 21 years old and has big dreams for the future.
"I was first generation to graduate high school and first generation to go to college," said Olalde.
Olalde came to Tucson when she was 15 years old and left her family and home behind in Mexico.
"Education in Mexico gets expensive after 9th grade. They had to pay tuition and uniforms and a bunch of things. My parents didn't have that kind of money. My aunt who lives here in Tucson offered to take me in," said Olalde.
After moving, Olalde quickly realized she was on her own.
"I got depressed. I gained a lot of weight. A lot of clothes didn't fit me. I didn't really have any clothes or shoes," said Olalde.
That is when she learned about Youth On Their Own. The Tucson based non-profit helps teens who have little to no support from family and may be experiencing homelessness.
"We provide them with financial assistance, basic needs, basically anything their parents would have gotten for them if they were taking care of them. We also provide guidance. We help them figure out what they're going to be doing after high school. We help them apply for scholarships," said Youth On Their Own Director of Development and Communications, Bethany Neumann.
Low enrollment in school during the height on the pandemic made it difficult for the organization to connect with teens in need. In 2019, Youth On Their Own helped over 2,000 young people. In 2020, they helped just around 800.
"Luckily, right now, most of them are going back to school. Enrollment, in general, is up in the different school districts. We are hoping to serve 1,500 youth this year," said Neumann.
With the help of Youth On their Own, Olalde earned a full ride scholarship to the University of Arizona. Even with a busy college schedule, she makes time to give back to the program that helped her flourish.
"Being in this program helped me realize that I want to help other youth who are in the same situation as me, who have aspirations for more, and let them know that they can achieve that if they really want to," said Olalde.
On Sunday, October 24 at 11 a.m., Youth On Their Own is hosting a virtual event to share more stories of students in their program. Tickets can be purchased here until Monday, October 18 at 12 p.m.
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