Desiree Cook

Founder, CEO, I Am You 360

By Christy Krueger

As founder and CEO of I Am You 360, Desiree Cook helps young people turn their lives around – a cause she knows very well.

A domestic abuse survivor who served prison time for drug addiction, Cook made the life-changing decision to leave incarceration better than when she entered, taking advantage of all services offered there. The first thing she did after her 2002 release was reunite with her family.

“I learned to be a parent, I learned about the new me,” she said. “This led to wanting to put the spotlight on the underserved population.” In 2014, she started I Am You 360, a nonprofit that helps youth who are in foster care or homeless that has garnered national attention. To date, it has aided 4,000 youth and families. 

The name stems from her ability to connect with young people because she’s been in their shoes. “When you open up and share, others open up, too,” Cook said. “We’re leading the charge – creating more taxpayers, lowering crime and making generational change.”

One initial goal was to create hygiene bags for foster kids, which can improve school attendance, academic success and employment opportunities. “Our first delivery, in 2014, was to a local group home for girls. When they got their bags, the response was positive.” This expanded to opening a dispensary where bags can be refilled every six weeks. 

Her newest project is building tiny homes for adults ages 18 to 22 who are homeless or aged out of foster care. The Small Home Experience is a program in which tenants pay $450 monthly for a 450-square-foot environmentally friendly house. Half the rent is put into escrow for them and after three years, they have enough to buy a starter home.

“We believe in employment and trade schools and a self-development curriculum, so we partner with people in the community who present classes in money management, job search and budgeting,” she said. 

Federal funding and support from OneAZ Credit Union and the City of Tucson have allowed construction to begin but more is needed for completion. Cook hopes her 2021 appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, resulting in DeGeneres gifting $50,000 in furniture, will help attract a potential major donor.

I Am You board member Nikieia Johnson said, “Desiree is the epitome of helping others. Her heart is with the youth of our community and helping vulnerable populations. And she’s a wonderful example of not letting your past dictate your future.”

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