Magazine article Humanities

In Focus: Arizona's Julie Yoder

Magazine article Humanities

In Focus: Arizona's Julie Yoder

Article excerpt

BEFORE MOVING TO ARIZONA in 1985, Julie Yoder tried her hand at many occupations. She was a high school teacher and administrator in California, she worked for a time in publishing, and she worked in Europe for seven years as a teacher of English as a second language. She and her husband even bought a five-acre farm in northern California and raised sheep on it for ten years.

"We wanted a different kind of life," says Yoder, now executive director of the Arizona State Humanities Council. "We didn't know much about sheep, only that it was a good match for the size of the farm we had. We loved it, and it was a great experience for our son as he grew up, but we discovered the work never ends, We knew it was time to give it up when we started supporting the farm instead of it supporting us."

Before buying the farm, Yoder says, "I took jobs that came along. The time teaching in Europe got me interested in English and journalism." Later, she worked as an editor in Phoenix. That led her toward her current profession. "I feel I was made for the humanities," she says. Yoder, who has a master's degree in humanities from Arizona State University, began at the Arizona council in 1987 as an administrative assistant and was named its director in July 2005. Her goal is to "continue programs the people of Arizona want," she says.

Literacy projects are one of the council's and Yoder's top priorities. To help parents who struggle with reading, the council sponsors Motheread Arizona, a family literacy program that helps parents improve their reading and parenting skills. The program is under the auspices of the national Motheread organization, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, which promotes reading to children at home. The council coordinates forty programs around the state and provides training for leaders. "We've had parents go from almost illiterate to fairly good readers."

The council also sponsors the annual Arizona Book Festival, now in its ninth year and held on the grounds of Phoenix's oldest library. The festival features national and local authors, panel discussions, storytelling, and activities for children.

Yoder is sensitive to the needs of minority constituencies in the state, including its twenty-one recognized Indian tribes. Her master's thesis was on Native American federal policy issues. "I've learned how important the Native American voice is. …

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