Elizabeth Slater

2023 Greater Tucson Leadership Alumni Excellence Award

By Tiffany Kjos

Elizabeth Slater isn’t keen on promoting herself, but that’s fine – people who know her are happy to do it for her. 

“She spends literally her whole volunteer life, her work life and her personal life, her weekends, serving other people and helping other people, and she does it so quietly,” said Terri Tellez-Baker, Junior League of Tucson president who co-nominated Slater for the Greater Tucson Leadership Alumni Excellence Award. Slater will receive the award at a Mar. 22 celebration.

Slater is CEO of Youth On Their Own, which propels participants toward high school graduation. When it became apparent that the nonprofit needed a bigger space, Slater led a massive effort to buy and renovate a two-building property on North Country Club Road where YOTO now has its “forever home.”

“If you talk to Elizabeth about it, she will never once mention herself. She will talk about the donors and the community members and the staff and the board that made it happen. But she is the one driving this incredible ship,” said Tellez-Baker, who called Slater “one of the most dynamic, helpful, selfless and caring people that I know.”

Slater’s work, and that of YOTO’s 33 other staffers, is paying off: 86% of YOTO participants graduate. That’s 14% higher than the graduation rate of all high schoolers in Pima County and 22% higher than the graduation rate of homeless teens across the nation.

YOTO essentially pays students to attend classes: Participants in grades 6-12 earn a stipend based on how much they go to school. It also provides free food, hygiene and school supplies, and stable adults to talk to. After kids graduate, they can continue with YOTO for up to four years through an alumni program.

“What we actually do is help teens who are experiencing homelessness stay in school and hit high school and plan for what’s next,” whether that’s college or technical school, said Slater, noting that many of YOTO’s clients come from homelessness. “Education is one of the best tools we have to break the cycle of poverty.”

In 2018, Slater went through GTL’s flagship program, Lead Tucson, which touched on topics such as government, the border and education. The experience “helped me understand more about my career and how change happens” and gave her a broader awareness of how different sectors and different people think about challenges, Slater said.

The GTL Alumni Excellence Award honors an alum of the GTL program who continues to have a positive effect on Tucson by using skills learned through GTL. Slater stands out for what she’s done to take YOTO to its next level, said GTL CEO Justin Lukasewicz. “The new center is beautiful and amazing, and the amount of resources they can bring to the students in need there is impressive.”

In its 38th year, YOTO serves more than 1,500 students a year in 100 schools countywide. When kids are in vulnerable situations, Slater is there to step in and help, Lukasewicz said. “Elizabeth is pretty amazing because she focuses so much of her time helping youth in our community, and I think we know the future is our youth, and we want to make our students and our youth have successful lives.”

YOTO has grown enough that it can afford to advertise, but not everyone is aware of the nonprofit. “I’m thrilled that a lot of people in this community know who we are. But I meet people every day who’ve never heard of us,” Slater said. “I think it’s a really compelling mission. A lot of folks say right away ‘What can I do? How can I help?’ ”

Slater started as a YOTO volunteer seven years ago and will mark five years as CEO in July. Along with being a member of the Junior League she is on the boards of the Amphi Foundation and the state Foster Care Review Board, which regularly reviews cases. 

“She has served as a personal mentor to me and others, and she is always pushing people to do their best,” Tellez-Baker said. “She truly leads by trying to make others and Tucson a better place.”

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