Having a place to call home is something many of us take for granted. A roof over our heads provides security and safety, which allows us to grow, to build relationships, and to live fulfilling lives. Along with food and water, having a safe home is the foundation for self-actualization.

Desiree Cook of I Am You 360 works to give homeless and at-risk youth in Tucson that basic sense of security and dignity we all deserve.

Desiree founded I Am You 360 in her living room 7 years ago. Her mission was to provide vulnerable youth and families with basic hygiene supplies like shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste that many people take for granted. She also noticed that many people living in at-risk communities used travel-sized products or products that were deemed damaged and couldn’t be sold at full price. From the beginning, I Am You 360 focused on giving new, full-sized products to the at-risk community. “We wanted to send the message of ‘no damaged goods,’” Cook said. “Because that sends the message to the person that they’re damaged goods.”

About three years ago, Desiree watched a video that inspired her to take I Am You 360’s mission to a new level. The video was about a tiny home community being built in Detroit. She reached out to that organization’s leader and toured the community during a visit to the city. She saw how those homes provided shelter to people in vulnerable communities and realized she could make a similar impact in Tucson. “I knew that I had work to do and I had to bring that here to where I live,” she said.

That hard work recently paid off as Desiree handed out the keys to the new safe-housing units to 10 youths between the ages of 18 and 22. The ribbon-cutting event in late August marked the opening of a new chapter for these young people who are either homeless or transitioning out of the foster care system. These studio units were newly refurbished, fully furnished and stocked with all the basics that anyone moving into a new home would need. Most of the teens and young adults could not contain their joy as they entered their new homes. It marked the end of a life of uncertainty and insecurity and the beginning of a journey towards fulfilling their aspirations.

The safe housing units are just one stop on a journey towards independence. To be eligible for this housing, participants must complete a 42-week Life Skills curriculum that includes lessons in home economics, financial literacy, time management, nutrition, sexual health, self-defense and home ownership.

Once they have the keys to their new homes, I Am You 360 expects their new residents to continue growing. Desiree says having a safe and clean place to call home will allow them to gain employment, pursue educational opportunities or job training, and give back to the community through civic service. “The children and youth we’re serving, someone has dropped the ball. It’s up to us to pick up the pieces to help them become well-rounded adults.” Eventually, she envisions residents buying their first homes, breaking what she called the “generational cycle” of living in poverty.

OneAZ Credit Union recently awarded I Am You 360 a Together is Better grant. That grant was used to buy supplies for the units that recently opened. It will also be used towards construction on new tiny homes that will give even more youths in Tucson a place to call home. “OneAZ was instrumental on both projects,” Desiree said. “It’s so inspiring to see how we’re better together.”

I Am You 360

To learn more about I Am You 360 visit iamyou360.org.

OneAZ makes it easy for members to give back to the community through the OneAZ Community Foundation. Our charitable giving is based on our five pillars of support: Children’s Health, Food Banks, Financial Education, Veterans’ Interests, Local Youth Programs. To learn more about the OneAZ Community Foundation and the Together is Better grant program, click here.

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