TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Autism Society of Southern Arizona calls autism the fastest-growing developmental disability. In Arizona alone, 1 in 71 people will likely have it. Tucsonan, John Vasquez is hoping to help change how people perceive the disability.
Vasquez said he has always been a helper and through his organization he hopes to make a permanent change in how autism is understood.
“Since a very young age, I started volunteering probably around the time I was 14 or 15,” Vasquez said. “It just continued.”
He studied psychology, worked with Autism Speaks, and eventually got into a new passion - art.
Vasquez became happiest when each of his loves in life could be combined into one, the Spark Project Collective.
"Everything about this place is what I've loved throughout my life," Vasquez said. "I just want to express and share it with everyone else."
The most unique part of the program is the hybrid of all his favorite things -- Vasquez is a volunteer tattoo artist.
All the money he gets from his work goes right back to developing outreach to the local autism community.
"Being able to handle everything from start to finish, I'd be able to make sure the most amount of money is going into the programs," Vasquez said.
Since the inception of the Spark Project Collective, the community has responded well.
Felicia Uribe has come multiple times to get inked by Vasquez, with her most recent visit for a Jurassic Park themed tattoo. She’s working on a sleeve.
When she started - each tattoo had meaning.
"Eventually I started getting them cause I felt like it," Uribe said.
However, it is the meaning behind why Vasquez does her tattoos that motivates her these days.
"When I came in here and talked to him and realized it was a nonprofit, that was a major reason why I started coming here a lot," she said.
Vasquez integrated tattoos into his non-profit nearly two years ago. It’s a part of his program that he made permanent.
"I really do think that the concept needs to grow," he said. "Get rid of the negative stigmas that are attached to the tattooing and body piercing world."
Vasquez hopes to see his business and organization grow. The goal is to prove that being tough enough to get tattoos, does not mean too tough to give back.
The Spark Project Collective has been around for almost a decade. It is spread across a few different cities and states, with Tucson serving as the hub.