Baltimore’s Youth Opportunity (YO) program awarded diplomas and certificates to 91 of the city’s young people, its 13th graduating class on June 12.
YO Baltimore is a home-based program geared to helping young adults ages 16 to 22 years old improve their lives. Some of them have dropped out of school, or are struggling with unstable households, or are young parents scuffling with the challenges of parenthood.
As YO Baltimore closes in a 14th year, program officials said they have helped more than 7,000 Baltimore young adults get ready for the world workforce preparations and personal development skills.
City Councilman Brandon Scott knows how tough it can be. As a high school senior at Mergenthaler High School, he participated in the YO program, which helped him prepare for, and find, a job before he went off to college.
Scott said the program could help young people overcome hardships that plague most urban communities. “I was once told, like these young people, that I wouldn’t do anything with my life.”
Scott, who delivered the keynote address to the graduates, is a YO success story, according to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “I met him when I was running for city council president, he worked for me during that time and I am extremely proud of him and what the program meant to him,” she said.
Rawlings-Blake looked onto an audience of graduates and their families and told them, “Your expectation is to pay it forward and make Baltimore a better place.”
While the ceremony did not have the pomp and circumstance of a high school graduation, there were tears and laughter as the 57 YO! Academy graduates’ names were called and awarded their completion certificates and 34 more were handed general Maryland high school diplomas.
“It’s been a struggle, YO is a great program and it has been wonderful for my daughter,” said Robin Holcomb, mother of Chanel Eaton, a 2013 Youth Opportunity graduate.
YO Baltimore was founded in 2000 to provided academic, career and job training and mentoring programs to help out-of-work and out-of-school city youth.
“It’s important we recognize that we need to have academic opportunities for a diverse population. The goal is to make sure programs fits all of our youth needs. YO serves a very specific purpose, serving disconnected youth to make sure they can achieve their full potential,” Rawlings-Blake told the AFRO.