Y.O.U. Alum Uses Experiences to Build Bright Future

Toni Airaksinen, an alum of our summer jobs program, is a shining example of the importance of youth employment.

Toni grew up in Cleveland's Westside Puritas neighborhood and attended John Hay Early College High School. Despite barriers-- her parents never finished high school, they didn't have a car and her family survived on welfare and food stamps-- Toni's talent and motivation was noticed by a high school biology teacher who recommended she participate in Y.O.U.'s summer employment program in the Frank G. Jackson Post-Secondary Enrollment Options Program (PSEOP).

Toni participated on the PSEOP Team for two years, earning college credit, a valuable work experience, and an income. The PSEOP Team learns about pollution, water cycles, the greenhouse effect through college coursework, while simultaneously participating in environmental sustainability work and applying their knowledge first hand in specialized projects.

Toni returned to the program for another two years as an assistant supervisor. When asked her greatest takeaway from her four years of involvement in the Y.O.U. program, Toni responded, "Y.O.U. gave me that work experience to make me, at the very least, a reasonable candidate for a lot of things that I applied to. So I think that one of the biggest takeaways is that small opportunities can turn into larger, greater and bigger things."

She is currently in her third year at Barnard College in New York City, pursuing a major in Urban Studies with a minor in Environmental Studies. She has been involved in nationally recognized activism efforts on behalf of first-generation college students and works as an opinion writer for various websites. This past summer Toni was busy in New York City with an internship at Hunger Free America and a conference at the Cato Institute. We are so proud of Toni, her successes, and all that she will continue to achieve in the future!