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Early childhood investments are the prescription for success

First Things First is celebrating the commitment of nearly 50 volunteers who have served on a regional partnership council for a decade.

Earlier this month, we introduced you to some of these 10-year FTF volunteers from different regions throughout Arizona. Each profile is followed by a complete list of the members in that regional area who have served for 10 years. Regardless of their location or affiliations, these individuals share one common trait: they are passionate about improving the lives of young children in their communities. They are true champions for children.

Please read about FTF Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Regional Council member Dr. Joyce Helmuth:

Dr. Joyce Helmuth knows better than most how a child’s early experiences impact their long-term success. As a pediatrician for more than 20 years, she sees first-hand how children’s early environments and interactions with adults impact their education health and well-being.

“The lack of resources – financial, but also in terms of services available in the community and caregivers who are available and have the capacity to support them – really impacts how children grow and learn,” she said. “As a physician, you are often in the position of being able to help with preventive care or treating illness, but not really being able to affect those broader situations that also impact health.”

That’s why Helmuth was so excited at the prospect of serving on the FTF Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Regional Partnership Council, which impacts the community where she works.

“I really saw it as an opportunity to extend myself; to share the knowledge that I had, but also to be able to connect with others who have a vested interested in young children’s development,” she said. “The families I see have so many needs that outpace my scope of work, and this was the chance to be able to impact the information and services available to them.”

Now, 10 years later, Helmuth says that seeing those services come to fruition, and the impact that they are having, is the greatest reward. She specifically noted the region’s efforts to reach teen parents with education and support.

“With that strategy, we see the teens engaging in positive ways with their children; we see them getting an education themselves, and we will hopefully see them breaking the cycle – that their children won’t be parents at an early age,” Helmuth said.

While expanding the services available to young children and their families is rewarding, it has not come without its challenges.

“I think with some people – whether you’re talking about individual families or with systems – there’s kind of an attitude of doing things the way they have always been done; a sort of apathy or a fatalistic acceptance that says things can’t change.”

She added that even she feels that way sometimes, as do many in her profession.

“Increasingly, doctors are being required to do so much – to check off a list of ‘did you do this or did you check that’ – that it really doesn’t leave a lot of time to really get to know the families they are working with and really get to the issues that are impacting long term health,” she said. “That’s really going in the wrong direction. And, we need to challenge that. Rather than checking off a litany of requirements, we need to really look at the person in front of us and prioritize what needs to be addressed in order to improve their well-being; and that means not only working with the child, but with the entire family.”

Since becoming a part of FTF, she sees herself spending more and more time with parents, helping to educate them on how they can grow in their role as their child’s first teachers. “I’m not going to fix the families I work with; they are not broken,” she said. “I help them to see their capacity and grow in their confidence to impact their child’s health and learning.”

And, when you make a difference for one child, Helmuth said, you can make a difference for generations.

“That’s really what we’re doing with First Things First.”

10 years of service
FTF Maricopa Regional Area

East Maricopa Region

Trinity Donovan

Northwest Maricopa Region

Patrick Contrades

Margaret Morales

Dr. Deborah Pischke

Jannelle Radoccia

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Region

Dr. Joyce Helmuth

Christine McIntier

Southwest Maricopa Region

Dr. Carlian Dawson

Kimberly Flack

David Schwake

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