Staff Spotlight: Vargas Clark, M.Ed, CEO, Helping Hands Learning Academy

Tell a little bit about yourself and your position at Helping Hands.

Helping Hands was first envisioned when I worked for the DeSoto County school system. While working there I encountered many older children who would have greatly benefited from receiving educational and behavioral services at an earlier age. Many times a child’s first academic instruction begins as a kindergartener and I would often talk to my wife about how important it is for some children to have an instructional environment at an even earlier age. I left the public school system and began to work for an early intervention center in Memphis, TN. However, I could not forget about the children in DeSoto county and how they were not afforded the same type of services. I knew that I could make a difference. Thus the beginning of Helping Hands Learning Academy. Colonial Hills Church believed in my vision and allowed Helping Hands to operate within the church. July 10th, 2010, marked the beginning of my dreams coming true – the ability to help children achieve greater gains academically and behaviorally. Our goal is for every child that attends the center to one day be fully included in a regular education program and be indistinguishable from their peers.

What is your area of expertise?

I have a Master’s in Special Education with an emphasis in Behavior Analysis. I am currently pursuing a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology.

What do you love most about your job?

The ability to aid a child in reaching new milestones and teaching parents how to manage challenging behaviors.

Do you have a special story or a favorite moment from day-to-day working with children?

I worked with a child for a little over a year and by all accounts he was deemed as non-verbal. We worked and worked on receptive and expressive programs, in particularly Lego blocks. One day during our one-on-one session, I asked as usual, “What do you want?” and he answered “Blocks”. The entire classroom began, what we called, a “block party”! It was amazing. Shortly thereafter, he began to “mand” or request other items. Before leaving the program, he could effectively label over 50 items and use other words to express basic wants and needs.

If there is one message you could give to parents of children diagnosed with autism and other developmental delays, what would that be?

Choose your battles. Don’t feel as if you need to address everything today. Learning is a life-long process, so be patient and know that if you are consistent you will be successful.

Is there someone who had a major impact on your own life?

My wife is my greatest supporter. Even when I feel that things are going totally wrong, she finds a way to stay positive. When I informed my wife that I wanted to start an early intervention center, she supported me without any reservations. I can’t say enough how she has impacted my life for the better.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

My favorite childhood memory is playing catch with my Dad and brother while my mother and sister watched. My dad would play for hours with us, and as the day went on my father would get tired. So, in order to gain rest, he would throw the ball over our heads as far as he could and it would take my brother and I a while to find the ball and get back to our yard.

What do you like to do for fun?

Family means everything to me, so anything that I can do that involves my family is always considered fun.

Do you have any hidden skills or talents?

I don’t know if this is a talent, but I enjoy singing. I sing in the choir at church, and I’m the youth choir director.

Cookies or ice cream?

Cookies

What’s your favorite quote or a saying you live by?

“A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying. ” ~ B.F. Skinner