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Meet Amber Illescas of E3 AZ Foundation in West Valley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Amber Illescas.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Amber. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In 2014, my mother got a call for her first placement for foster care. She was an adorable and smart girl named Laila. I’ll always remember the heavy sadness she felt coming into a stranger’s home with no familiar faces. Despite that, Laila and I became best friends. I thought I was being a positive role model for her, but little did I know that she was the one playing a huge role in my life and future. Within four months, it was time for Laila to be placed with family members.

On our way to say goodbye to her, my family and I stopped at a Walgreens. Inside the store, I saw an entire aisle dedicated to Valentine’s Day stuffed animals that were 75-80% off…and I love great deals! Since we have many children in our families and environments, I knew that I could grab a handful of stuffed animals and find good homes for them. But there was one stuffed animal. A white teddy bear with a brown knit sweater. I said to myself, “This one is for Laila.”

As we entered my mom’s house, where she was on the couch with the biggest, most contagious smile. “Laila, I have a surprise for you!” Excited, she waited to see what I was pulling out from behind my back. I said in a soft teddy bear voice, “You’re so pretty. You’re so smart. You are going to do great things when you are older.” I have never seen someone smile so big as she replied, “Really, you think so?”. I confirmed, “Yes, and if you ever forget, here is this little teddy bear to remind you.”

That experience has always been in my heart. It made me think about how there are so many children who might never hear something positive like they are loved, talented or amazing. As someone who was in foster care and adopted, I know the impact it can have on one’s life to have someone believe in you and guide you to resources that provide opportunities in life. From inspiring teachers like Mr. Phifer, who looked at me and told me I was going to do great things one day, to supportive friends/family, and genuine leaders like Mr. Bruce T. Halle who taught me to live my dream, I have been very blessed to be filled with encouragement and empowerment from others. As foster parents, we often come into contact with children who have been neglected or abused. Sadly, some of these children do not have the love, support, and motivation that they deserve.

At the same time, I was also very passionate about photography and teaching others goal setting by way of making vision boards. I did not understand why God put such a passion inside of me for all of these different activities…until it became very clear. He wasn’t giving me these passions to pursue individually, but rather to mix all of them into an organization aimed to encourage, equip, and empower others. Since that moment, I knew I had to be obedient to the calling that was put upon my life. One of my favorite quotes by Tim Storey is “Somebody is waiting on the other end of your obedience.” This is why we are moving to help encourage, equip, and empower the youth of our communities through services that promote love, support, and motivation. Currently, we are serving children in foster care, kinship, adoptive and biological children of foster parents, We provide services such as photography, distribute stuffed animals with positive messages, workshops, motivational sessions, and our “You Rock” program (encourages youth to give back to the community). To date, we have reached almost 500 children with the above services.

This is why at E3 AZ Foundation we are moving to help Encourage (E1), Equip (E2), and Empower (E3) the youth of our communities through services that promote love, support, and motivation.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I don’t believe that anything worth having is without its challenges and obstacles. From deciding to leave my full time job, forming a 501(c)3 nonprofit to learning the ropes of the nonprofit world, this vision has been full of obstacles into the unknown and unfamiliar. One challenge that I believe all nonprofits face is the need for effective fundraising. It requires a lot of effort and creativity, just like any business. Nevertheless, we have been surrounded by wonderful experts, supporters, and volunteers who have helped the E3 AZ Foundation grow into what it is today.

Tell us more about your organization.
E3 AZ Foundation, Inc.’s mission is to encourage, equip, and empower youth in our community by providing goods and services that promote love, support, and motivation. We currently are serving children impacted by foster care and adoption as well as the adoptive and biological children of foster parents.
Services include:
– Photography
– Stuffed animals with positive messages
– Workshops (vision boards-goal setting)
– Motivational Sessions
– Empowerment Sessions (i.e. Love Your Texture Hair Tutorial)
– “You Rock” Program (encourages youth to give back to the community)

As an organization, we take pride in engaging with the children at each event. We are enthusiastic about each event we host and we do it with genuine love. We think outside of the box when it comes to our services and gets creative in times of resource constraints.

We also take the privacy and safety of our children seriously. Unless given a photo release from DCS (Dept. of Child Safety) or legal guardian consent, we do not publish photos containing children’s faces.

We do encourage the foster parents to share the photos with the biological parents (if appropriate to do so). This allows the parents to see their children as they grow.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Oh, man! This list will get longer. From a personal standpoint, I have been blessed by many supporters. To name a few (and not take your entire magazine spread):
– Marvin Illescas – husband, member, supporter, foster parent, wonderful father, and my biggest cheerleader
– Monica Pineda – friend, member, supporter, clinician…just an amazing person with a big heart.
– Monica McPherson – friend, member, supporter…another amazing person with a big heart.
– Marianne Jones – mother, supporter, foster parent, my second biggest cheerleader
– Eduardo Paredes and Tiffany Aja-Escajeda are also the sweetest friends and supporters of our organization. Their contributions to our events and social media are deeply appreciated.
– My family, friends, church, and teachers have also been amazing believers in my vision with this organization.

Professionally:
– Generous organizations like Discount Tire, USI Tempe, Scottsdale Masonic Lodge #43, and Phoenix Rising FC, have helped us organize fundraisers and stuffed animal drives in fun and exciting ways (i.e. Teddy Bear Tosses).
– Donors – Without donors supporting our mission, none of this is possible.
– Organizations that give us an opportunity to a partner like Love Your Texture, Catholic Charities, AZ Children’s Heart Gallery, City of Surprise’s Care and Share Expo, and Tacos Calafia. These amazing groups have allowed us to serve children along side them and we are so grateful for them.
– Jamie Dorn is not only a friend but a very talented and dedicated photographer at Curtain Call Photography who has been at almost every event over the last year. She has the heart of gold and is very good at capturing priceless moments with the children.
– Eduardo Paredes and Tiffany Aja-Escajeda are also the sweetest supporters of our organization. Their contributions are deeply appreciated.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Curtain Call Photography
A. Chanel Photography

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