Hello! My name is Laura Johnson, and I am an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with Easter Seals Blake Foundation (ESBF) in Tucson, AZ. Easter Seals Blake Foundation has a rich history in Tucson. ESBF began as the Cerebral Palsy Foundation of Southern Arizona in 1950, eventually changing its name to The Blake Foundation in 1993. In 2007, The Blake Foundation became an Easter Seals affiliate for Southern Arizona. ESBF seeks to assist those who are disabled and/or disadvantaged to live happy and independent lives, as they discover the potential that they possess.
As a native Tucsonan, I was excited to hear that I would be an AmeriCorps VISTA member with an organization that has had such an impact on our community. I specifically work with the Incredible Years (IY) program, an evidence-based curriculum designed by Dr. Carolyn Webster-Stratton, a professor at the University of Washington. At ESBF, Incredible Years is used to serve families in a community-based setting and behavioral health clients. Our community-based groups are funded through a grant partnership with First Things First and the United Way. IY includes parenting education curriculums for caregivers of children of various ages and Dinosaur School, a skill-building and school readiness program for children ages four to eight. IY focuses on creating family harmony through understanding and positive reinforcement.
A large part of what I do with Incredible Years is community outreach. I participate in tabling events where we can spread the word about the array of services that Blake offers. I also develop partnerships between IY and entities that provide a venue in which Incredible Years community-based groups can be hosted. The largest event I have participated in so far was Hope Fest, an event that takes place in October at Kino Stadium. The mission of Hope Fest is to provide alleviation to those living in poverty, which falls in line with the goal of AmeriCorps VISTA. There were thousands of people at this event either receiving or learning about low-cost or free services in our community. At this event, we provided the Tiny Turtle activity for children. This activity includes coloring and taking home a paper turtle with an accompanying worksheet that teaches children how to manage their anger. One child mentioned to ESBF staff that she was glad to be coloring Tiny Turtle, since she had no crayons at home. This put the work that we do as agencies and VISTAs into perspective. AmeriCorps and ESBF have given me the opportunity to learn more about and give back to my community and country, both of which have taught and given me so much.