Most Viewed Stories
$5.3 million awarded to First Things First in Yuma
When Irene Garza’s son was diagnosed with autism five years ago, she and her husband walked out of the specialist’s office discouraged. The Phoenix specialist had just detailed the many services and therapy her son would need.
“You do know we live in Yuma?” Garza asked.
“I’m so sorry,” the specialist replied, because the doctor knew her son would not be able to get the services he needed in Yuma, Garza explained.
First Things First (FTF) has helped change that. Through a citizen initiative in 2006, a tobacco tax has allowed FTF to allocate more than $560 million to early education and health services.
Among those to benefit is the Easter Seals Blake Foundation, which celebrated a $5.3 million funding award to the Yuma region from FTF on Thursday.
“First Things First is a wonderful asset to me as a parent,” Garza said.
She now serves as vice chair of the FTF Yuma Regional Partnership Council, a group of volunteers who determine what early childhood services will be provided locally with FTF funds.
Among the Yuma funded services are the Easter Seals Blake Foundation’s Parents as Teachers Program, Parents as Teachers Special Needs Program and Early Care and Education Inclusion Plus Program.
In Parents as Teachers, parents receive personal visits in their homes, where coaches share activities that promote child development and family well-being.
Parents are videotaped so they can analyze their parenting skills and make adjustments, said Nohemi Ortega, program supervisor.
Teri Koenig, parent educator for children with special needs, demonstrated how parents can use inexpensive items found in the home, such as bowling with water bottles and balls made with newspaper and tape, to play with and teach their children.
In addition, the program’s Group Connection brings parents and children together so they can socialize and learn together.
Eloisa Alvarez, mother of 3-year-old Lateef Muthana, praised the Parents as Teachers program. Her son would not socialize with others and had problems with speaking. He would get frustrated and hit others when he couldn’t communicate.
“Today, with the program, he is much improved,” Alvarez said, with a smiling Lateef next to her. “As you can see, he now talks a lot.”
He speaks three languages — Arabic, Spanish and English — and won’t go to bed without reading a book together and saying his numbers, she added.
His behavioral problems have also improved, even recognizing his misdeeds without being told.
“When he misbehaves, he hangs his head and goes to the corner, where he’ll count 1, 2, 3 ... , all by himself. Then he comes to me and says, ‘I’m sorry, mommy.’”
She expressed appreciation for the program. “As a mother, it has helped me a lot. Nobody had taught me. Nobody is born knowing.”
The Inclusion Program supports childcare providers with special needs children.
“Practicing inclusion benefits everyone,” said Raquel Muñoz-Aguirre, senior inclusion coach.
She noted that it teaches acceptance, perseverance and promotes relationships with everyone, no matter their abilities.
In a video presentation, Rosa Garcia, a home-based childcare provider, expressed appreciation for the Inclusion Program. She said she knew of programs that helped “big” childcare centers but not home-based services like hers.
The program has helped her with trainings, developing one-on-one strategies, and taught her how to screen and refer children to needed services.
“Right now I am a 3-star (childcare provider) but it’s not because I did it myself,” Garcia said. “What helped me a lot was the Inclusion Program.”
“For Rosa to hit that milestone is remarkable,” said Rhian Alvin, CEO of Arizona FTF and co-writer of the citizen’s ballot initiative that created First Things First.
Of the more than 3,000 childcare providers in Arizona, 1,000 are enrolled in FTF. In Yuma, 100 enrolled providers are designated as 3-, 4- or 5-star centers, she said.
Alvin gets goose bumps when she’s in Yuma and not because of the recent chill, she quipped.
“There’s an energy you can feel,” she said, noting that residents seem so vested in children.
The Rev. Darren Hawkins, faith representative of the FTF Yuma Regional Partnership Council, attributed it to a willingness to work together.
Rudy J. Ortiz, FTF Yuma regional director, reiterated that hard work and partnerships is “what it’s all about.”
“It’s not just about money, but individual, hard-core sweat and rolling up of sleeves. It comes down to our relationships with families and children.”
For more information on First Things First, visit www.azftf.gov/Yuma or call 343-3020. For more information on the Easter Seals Blake Foundation, call 248-5112.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.