Features July 2021

Valley Dad Instills Importance of Giving Back

From a young age, valley dad DéMario Vaughn learned the importance of two things: family and community.

“My parents, who are still with us, raised my family in Long Beach, where we volunteered through our church on a regular basis,” says Vaughn, who is the second youngest of four children. “Volunteering with my family by my side as well as seeing first-hand the direct impact on other kids my age in need stayed with me my entire life.”

So much so that while in high school – where he lettered in football and track and field and even served as president of the Human Relations club – he took time to mentor fellow students, though often only a few years younger than he.

Upon graduation, Vaughn made his way to Arizona in 1990 to attend Arizona State University, where he played offensive tackle for the Sun Devils until his graduation in 1995, missing the team’s Rose Bowl season by just one year.

“I found myself mentoring again while I played football and studied toward a degree in justice studies,” says Vaughn. “Just after graduating, I took an internship with an organization that works with young men who would otherwise be incarcerated, and this allowed me to blend my passions for giving back, mentoring and my justice studies degree.”

The internship solidified Vaughn’s next move: becoming a probation officer.

“Working with teens and young adults on finding a means toward a second chance in life was fulfilling in so many ways, but certainly was not without its challenges, including having to work with and educate the parents,” says Vaughn, who would go back to school to earn a master’s degree in education counseling from NAU. “I eventually saw that specialized education was a critical way out and up for those at risk.”

Enter Anthem Education Group.

“In 2007, I had the opportunity to join their team as vice provost of regulatory affairs,” says Vaughn. “It allowed me to indirectly assist those in my community find a skill in a trade that would ultimately give those without traditional secondary education an opportunity to be successful in a career path and positive contributor to our society.”

It would take something special for him to make another big move. That “something special” came in the form of Mercy Care in 2014. Mercy Care is a not-for-profit Medicaid managed-care health plan, serving AHCCCS members in Arizona since 1985.

“Mercy Care advocates for the comprehensive health of our members and their families. We provide access to physical and behavioral health care services for Medicaid-eligible families, children, seniors, and individuals with developmental/cognitive disabilities,” says Vaughn. “Among those we serve are those members who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid (AHCCCS). We do this through our dual-eligible special needs plan, Mercy Care Advantage.”

Vaughn serves as community relations manager for the organization, where he helps direct community giving, sponsorships and investments in nonprofits that are making a difference in the lives of underserviced populations across Arizona.

A particular point of pride for Vaughn is Mercy Care’s work with Special Olympics Arizona (SOAZ).

Mercy Care’s partnership with SOAZ started with a $10,000 grant for the 2010-11 Summer Games. Since then, Mercy Care’s support has continued to grow, providing more than $200,000 in financial assistance, delivering more than 19,000 free health screenings, training more than 1,000 health professionals and students to educate and treat people with intellectual disabilities, and offering more than 3,400 employee volunteer hours.  Vaughn, who now also serves on the organization’s executive board, says that most recently, Mercy Care served as Presenting Sponsor for SOAZ’s Return to Activities Initiative. Mercy Care provided education and supplies to all members of the Special Olympics Arizona community in response to the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure a safe return when in-person sports and activities resume.

“This is a small sample of the direct impact we are having in the community. And something that is an example to my children, showing them just as my parents did with me,” says Vaughn.

Married 22 years as of last month to wife Kerry, the Vaughns have five children, ranging in age from 8 to 27. He is also about to become a grandfather for the second time as his oldest daughter and her husband are expecting their second child.

“I hold the lessons and foundation built by my parents about giving back very close to my heart. So when I can, I take my own kids – especially the youngest two – to any and all activities Mercy Care supports as long as it doesn’t interfere with schoolwork,” says Vaughn.

This includes taking part in Special Olympics activities, passing out wellness and health information to other children at booths supported by Mercy Care and even taking part in fundraising walks for organizations ranging from the March of Dimes March for Babies Walk to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk together.

For more, visit www.mercycareaz.org.

Written by: Alison Bailin Batz

Alison Bailin Batz is a freelance writer on interesting people, places, things – as well as all thing travel, food and drink. Her musings can be seen in more than two dozen media outlets across the Southwest. She is also a senior account executive at HMA Public Relations in Phoenix.

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