When Desiree Cook, founder and Executive Director of I Am You 360 said “children should not look like their circumstances” she meant it with every fiber of her being. I had the honor to interview Desiree, the founder and executive director of I Am You 360, one of the first models of its kind.  This mighty non-profit serves infants to adults who are in foster care, aging out, kinship, and homeless youth and families in Tucson Arizona.

Children are more than a file in a file cabinet. They are somebody. Desiree Cook

Years ago when Desiree was incarcerated she decided to get to know herself. As she looked at who she was, Desiree knew she wanted to change. She knew how low self-esteem and other factors could spiral anyone into darkness and made the decision to be the change for herself. Little did she know as she was changing she would become an illuminator for children who are in their own darkness.

See the light in others and treat them as if that is all you see.” Dr. Wayne Dyer

In 2011 after leaving prison Desiree and her husband, whom she had married in 2002, created a home and Desiree was reunited with her children. Knowing there was more she wanted to do, Desiree became a natural licensed hair stylist.  She continued to feel compelled to do more. She thought of children and youth who were vulnerable. Kids in foster care, homeless, and struggling families. How could she make impactful change so the generational cycles of foster care, incarceration, and poverty would be broken. Desiree wanted to help children and youth feel worthy because they are worthy. She decided to focus on children and youth in foster care or who are homeless. According to the Arizona Department of Child Safety there are 14,000 Arizona children in foster care and only about 4500 licensed foster families. The need to help these children who through no fault of their own are in the circumstance is great. Desiree knew she needed to help these kids see their potential and possibility in the world.  

Remove the barcode stigma.” Desiree Cook

I Am You 360 began with a boots on the ground initiative where Desiree decided to make customized, personalized hygiene and hair care products kits according to age, gender, ethnicity in order to fit a person’s unique needs. At the core of I Am You 360 is supporting the whole person, from the outside to the inside. Desiree, her husband, kids and other helpers of good gathered the hygiene items. They hosted “Pack the Bag” parties to sort and personalize the hygiene kits.  She remembers the first time they took items to children living in a group home. Desiree, understanding the trauma the children have experienced was unsure of how these kids would react when they brought them these products. The hygiene gifts were quickly embraced by the kids in joyous ways. One of the girl’s wanted to show Desiree her room in the group home. In her room were the hygiene products she had been given when this girl first arrived at the group home. Desiree’s heart sank when she recognized they were the same products given to people in prison. 

Set up for success so they can be successful.” Desiree Cook

From that moment on I Am You 360 continued to grow and evolve. They have been honored to have served over 4000 youth and families in Arizona. The hygiene program continues where the bags are refilled every six weeks, eight times a year. There is the “Your hair is Your Crown”, an innovative African American hair care class and program. Desiree and her team have developed an evidence based, curriculum program “ I Am Somebody.” This mentoring program facilitates positive thinking, building skills, and helps to build self-esteem. The amazing outcomes are demonstrated in the pre and post tests along with concrete feedback from the participants.  I Am You 360 is not just about giving services. It is about providing the skills and opportunity so these kids will want to invest in themselves. 

Sewn back into the fabric of society.” Desiree Cook

When kids age out of foster care at 18 years old many have no house, no home to go to. Often these young people do not have anyone to turn to for help . To help fill that void and build skills I Am You 360 has begun the first of it’s kind Safe Housing Program. They were humbled to receive from community donors earlier this year an apartment complex that provides safe and secure housing for ten of the vulnerable 18-22 year olds they provide support to. Each of these ten residents are in school or working. Phase 2 is a tiny home community when completed will provide ten energy efficient green homes. The residents will pay $1.00 for each of their 450 square feet. Half of that money will be put into an escrow savings so in a few years they can purchase their own home. A plethora of life skills training will be provided along with partnering with community support. Community gardens will provide the homeowners the opportunity to learn how to grow some of their own food.  This phase will begin construction once I Am You 360 has completed raising the 1.5 million dollars needed for this program. 

Plant seeds of hope and watch our youth grow and become fruitful. Desiree Cook

Even in her moments of feeling depleted, this passionate activist advocates as a voice for the voiceless, working tirelessly to build awareness and secure funding. These vulnerable children, youth and families are worthy. They deserve to be treated with dignity and to feel dignified. Utilizing programs that teach skills and promote positivity lifts people up and gives them a chance. Combining this with teaching skills creates long-term impact and builds lifetime relationships.When you empower the whole person you change negative thinking into positive and facilitate healing from the trauma of the past. The crisis occurring in Arizona is also a national crisis. When we come together as a society and all do our part we become stronger, healthier, and leaders in our own communities. When we share our stories they connect us. We all arrive at 360 and become a source of light and strength for each other.

Thank you Desiree Cook and I Am You 360 for being you. For bringing your illuminating awesome to the world. We are all the better for it.

To learn more about the incredible I Am You 360 here is their information:


Facebook: @iamyou360

Instagram: @i_am_you_360