Julia Foos transformed her family’s basement into a warehouse to organize the thousands of books she donates to others.
A voracious passion for reading has inspired a local teenager to accomplish an astounding feat of community service that is enriching the lives of underprivileged children.
Julia Foos, a 17-year-old high school student, has single-handedly collected and donated more than 25,000 new and gently used books to kids throughout Northeast Ohio.
She has directed 10,000 of those books to United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Stuff The Bus initiative.
We sat down with Julia to learn more about what motivates her to devote so much effort to help others.
I collect new and gently used books mostly from businesses. I originally collected them just from family and family friends, but it’s grown over the years, a lot of it through word-of-mouth. Now, I get random messages on Facebook, ‘do you still need books for me to donate, I can donate them’. Usually I sort them by age and reading level. I have the board books for the little kids and picture books, and small chapter books and bigger chapter books. And then usually I make my parents help me carry the giant boxes out to the car (laughing). And the entire operation is located in the basement of our home. It’s worked for us.
I’ve always been reading; it’s always something that I’ve done. Actually, when I was little the only way my parents could punish me was to ground me from reading on the car ride home. Because that was the only punishment I would listen to. So, reading’s always been something I’ve just been really, really passionate about and I hope I can give other kids the opportunity to be passionate about it too, especially if they don’t have access to books. I can’t imagine what my childhood would have been like without access to a library.
For me personally, when I’m in school I don’t have a ton of time to read. Not as much as I like because I have so much work to do. Summer is the time I actually tend to catch up on my reading. I like giving more kids that option, too, because I know most kids during the school year are focused on the books they have to read for school and maybe don’t get as much time to read for pleasure. And I think that’s really important to me—that I get to read what I want whenever I want. I know when I read during the summer, I may not be reading about school subjects, but I’m still learning about new things and gaining new ideas, and I hope I can pass that along to other kids.
It just makes me feel really good to give kids the opportunity to read and learn, because I know that my life would have been very different if I hadn’t had those opportunities. Mentally, it really makes me feel good and rewarded. I would encourage anybody to find something they’re passionate about and see what kind of impact they can make. It’s amazing what one person can do.
Julia was recently featured on News Channel 5 Cleveland (WEWS)
Watch her story here:
Book Lover and Youth Philanthropist
Quick Facts –
Hathaway Brown School
Lives with her parents, Heather and Kevin, a sister, Ava, and dogs Pippa and Tacy in Avon Lake.
How much does she love books?
When Julia was 7-years-old, her library card was declined because she was over the 75-book limit.
Why did she start a book drive?
Was shocked, then inspired, after reading an article about how many kids in Cleveland don’t have access to books at home. Also hopes her efforts will eventually help reduce the city’s 61 percent adult illiteracy rate.
Who do you donate them to?
United Way of Greater Cleveland, Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank, and others.
(besides reading a lot) Crafts, including knitting and sewing, and entertaining her dogs.
Heading off to college in the fall, where she intends to major in English and/or pursue a path in pre-med. She hopes to collect an additional 10,000 books before classes start.
Guest post by Christine Sanchez, manager of PR at United Way Worldwide
With summer in full swing, many of us are heading outdoors with family. But it can be easy to let our guard down when it comes to safety. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure kids stay safe outdoors.
- Be careful of heat and sun. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that most sun damage occurs in childhood, and advises caution between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Babies under six months should avoid direct sunlight, wear brimmed hats and lightweight clothing that covers their arms and legs. Older kids should wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or greater. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before heading outside and remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Always check the back seat for kids or pets when leaving your car. Temperatures inside a parked car can hit 160 degrees in less than 10 minutes on a 90-degree day. There are apps available that will remind you to check your back seat once you reach your destination.
- Don’t mess around when it comes to water safety. Did you know drowning is one of the top causes of accidental death in children? Always make sure kids have your full attention when they’re in or around water. Learning the basics of swimming is also key. New guidelines from the AAP say parents should consider a child’s exposure to water, emotional development, and physical abilities before enrolling kids under four in swim lessons. Fencing off your pool is a critical safety measure for you and your neighbor’s kids. And learning CPR, available through the American Red Cross, is always a good idea.
- Watch those mosquitoes and ticks. These critters don’t have to put a damper on your outdoor fun, so make sure to use insect repellent that has DEET or another EPA-approved ingredient. Insect repellant isn’t recommended for babies under two months, so make sure their clothing covers their arms and legs and use mosquito netting over cribs, strollers and baby carriers. For everyone else, EPA has information on finding the right repellent for you. And remember: always apply sunscreen first, then your insect repellent.
Keep these tips top-of-mind the next time you head out, and teach your kids the importance of staying safe outside. If you spot a person or pet trapped in a hot car, call 911 immediately. For more information and local resources, call 2-1-1.
Reposted with permission from United Way Worldwide (original post)
By Jen, Why CLE? blogger (reposted with permission from the author)
There’s a superhero in each of us and on Wednesday, June 27, the United Way of Greater Cleveland wants to celebrate that!
Heroes Unite will take over Public Square to celebrate the United Way of Greater Cleveland’s 2017-2018 campaign. Headlining the Heroes Unite event is Welshly Arms, a Cleveland-based band that has risen to national prominence.
There will also be superhero-themed activities for all ages, including appearances from caped crusaders, a photo booth, games, and a video game virtual reality simulator.
Heroes Unite takes place on Wednesday, June 27 in Public Square from 4-8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but the United Way of Greater Cleveland is requesting RSVPs here.
The United Way of Greater Cleveland helps people in need with education, health, basic needs, and financial stability, with services ranging from emergency shelters to mediation programs to substance abuse treatment to childcare centers. Find out more about the United Way of Greater Cleveland and how you can help here.
There is a superhero in each of us and we can proudly let our capes fly with the United Way of Greater Cleveland’s celebration!
About Why CLE?
I’m a CLE gal, born and raised. And I’ve lived other places, but I always come back home – by choice, not by chance.
The people I know who make a life here genuinely love it, but often hear the same question, “Why Cleveland?” The worst part is when people who actually live in Cleveland ask, “Why Cleveland?” I get convincing the outsiders. But when Clevelanders themselves ask, “Why Cleveland?” Well, that’s a problem…
Learn more about the acclaimed Why CLE? blog.
“Community Impact is excited to report that we have successfully reestablished the John K. Mott – Youth Fund Distribution Committee (YFDC). United Way’s youth philanthropy program enlists motivated high school juniors and seniors to take part in a unique opportunity to help solve community problems. The teenagers are given the responsibility of learning about the needs of the community—especially the needs of young people—and then learn about potential solutions in addressing those issues. Members of the committee make funding decisions about where to distribute dollars to non-profit partners that serve youth in Cuyahoga County.”
Steve Borstein, United Way of Greater Cleveland board member and executive director, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple
A Mayfield High School senior and member of the YFDC class of 2018 tells of her experience in her own words:
By Zicari Matthews, Mayfield High School senior
At a very young age, I lost my father to cancer. Losing any figure in one’s life is tough, but being just 5 years old and losing someone of that significance is a crack in anyone’s foundation. Refusing to trip over this tall hurdle, I decided that my life was made for helping others in any capacity and I swore to myself that if there was any chance for me to make a difference I would take it.
Becoming a part of the YFDC Committee has helped me find who I am and what I would like to become. I’ve always known that I wanted to help others, but actually taking part in aiding the Greater Cleveland community has altered my life for the better. I could not be more thankful for an opportunity like this one.
I know that I want to go into the Journalism field and pursue a career that creates awareness for the suppressed and advocate for those who need immediate and desperate help. Without being a member of this group and having first-hand experiences, I know my eyes wouldn’t have been opened to these kinds of things.
Eyes opened and ideas broadened, I found that the things I haven’t experienced are very real and very alive in this world. There are members of the committee who are faced with gun violence, blatant discrimination and drug-ridden communities. I have been gifted with the safety and security within my community and home where I haven’t had to face those things.
Having the discussions of what we feel are most important to address in the Greater Cleveland area has made me realize that I may go through some things and feel down every now and then, but there are people who hear gunshots as they lay in bed at night and people who go to sleep hungry and without food on their tables. Talking with the other members have shown me that, as people, we are all faced with different issues and there is an urgent need for care and assistance within our communities.
Although we do not live in a perfect world and things like famine, homelessness and poverty still exist, the YFDC Committee has shown me that there is hope for tomorrow. Empowering youth and uniting us from diverse developments and backgrounds to problem solve and analyze situations for solutions displays an obvious sign that we can get through the pain and hurt and struggles communities go through daily. By working with YFDC and finding my calling through others’ experiences, I know that my father would be proud to see that I am working to fulfill the plan destined for me in his honor.
2018 YFDC Results
This year 20 students from 10 area high schools participated in the program. This past Monday, they officially present grants totaling $25,000 to five worthy non-profit organizations. They allocated five $5,000 grants to organizations that help solve community problems (48 organizations applied).
The organizations receiving grants are:
- Neighborhood Family Practice
- Epilepsy Association
- Cleveland Rape Crisis Center
- Peace in the Hood
His parents didn’t understand why, but the spirited toddler who always appeared content and expressive began to change.
After several months of doctor appointments and testing, the heart-breaking conclusion would force Logan Mehic’s family to confront their new reality: seeking the best treatment for their beloved son’s severe case of autism.
“When we originally got this diagnosis, it was almost like somebody handed you a terminal disease,” recalled the child’s father, Adi Mehic. “You’re told that your son is going to be non-communicative, might need assisted living the rest of his life.”
Logan’s condition, according to his mother, Samantha, grew more unmanageable when he started behaving aggressively toward others.
“The moment I realized Logan needed extra help that we couldn’t give him as parents was when he went from a kid who threw no fits to a kid who would bite and hit,” she said. “We wanted to give him the best chance we could, so we reached out for help.”
The helping hand that reached back came from the dedicated staff at Achievement Centers for Children, a United Way-funded partner that has been treating clients with disabilities for nearly eight decades.
Samantha recounted the stress of their first visit to have Logan evaluated.
“It really was a difficult one. No parent wants to hear that their child doesn’t meet standards. But they really made us feel comfortable that even though he didn’t meet these, he was going to in the future.”
That spirit of hope is reflected in the agency’s mission statement, which pledges to “empower children and adults with disabilities, and their families, to achieve their greatest potential.” In the case of Logan, Achievement Centers designed a comprehensive treatment plan that has led to significant progress over the past two years.
“His growth in the past two years at the Achievement Centers is something like I’ve never seen and I feel like we have changed all those pre-conceived notions about what autism was.” – Adi Mehic, Logan’s father
He’s a little fish
Logan’s treatment plan incorporates physical, speech and occupational therapy, which all have proven highly beneficial.
His favorite form of therapy, however, is one that allows this 5-year-old to spend time in the pool.
“He loves to swim. He’s a little fish,” said Samantha, with a mother’s pride. “We got him to aquatic therapy about a year ago and we were really excited because Logan has always loved the water.”
Logan has been working with an adapted aquatics instructor, Holly Osborne, and the two have grown close. These sessions have produced measurable results in terms of improved temperament and language skills.
“When he started he didn’t speak—no words. And now he repeats, he can request, which I think is fabulous,” explained Holly. “We have also worked on patience, which doesn’t seem like it would be an aquatics type of lesson, but it is because he is now able to wait when I say ‘one, two, three, go.’”
Logan’s parents note that aquatics therapy just makes their son feel good, which alone is a blessing they celebrate each time they see him laughing and splashing in the water.
“Swimming really helps turn his day around,” said Adi. “Even when we’re going through a really frustrating day where he’s had too much on his plate or he’s been pushed a little too far, swimming is his outlet where he goes to feel like Logan again. It’s a release for him, physically and mentally, and elevates his mood, or frankly, poops him out.”
Making an impact in more ways than one
United Way-funding helps make it possible for Achievement Centers for Children to help families like Logan’s.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study estimates 1 in 59 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD); and last year, Achievement Centers served more than 600 clients with ASD.
Data and evidence are important to Logan’s parents. Equally important, though, are the “everyday life” moments that demonstrate their child is indeed progressing.
“I remember the first day he walked up and he handed me a cup—and he goes ‘Dad, I want water.’ That’s one of those moments that people with a typically developed child really take for granted. And it’s not something you see every day and, it’s … it’ll make a big man cry, I’ll tell you that much.”
Adi and Samantha credit Achievement Centers with helping their entire family cope, grow closer and learn how to play a vital role in Logan’s therapy. They also believe Logan is on his way to reaching his full potential.
“People donating to United Way should ask themselves one question,” added Adi. “Do you really want to make a difference in this child’s life? And do you really want to affect the families of children who have autism and special needs?”
Watch Logan’s Story
As we approach the end of April, we reflect back on an important month of awareness — Sexual Assault Awareness Month. With the #MeToo movement still garnering great support and furthering the mission of empowering countless survivors of sexual harassment, The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center shares tips on supporting those who experienced sexual harassment and violence.
Over the last few months, sexual violence has been elevated to the national conversation in ways we have never seen before. The #MeToo movement has empowered countless survivors of sexual harassment and abuse to speak their truth and share their experiences, even if perhaps they had never dared before.
We all have a role to play in supporting survivors of sexual violence. And as many survivors are coming forward for the first time, there are ways you can show your support if someone close to you discloses that they, too, are a survivor.
When someone you care about confides in you that they experienced rape or sexual abuse, it can be a challenging conversation. You may feel that you want to help them, but you might not be sure how or know what to say.
Below are three ways to support a friend or family member who is a survivor of rape or sexual abuse.
1) Simply listen, without judgment or expectations.
Listen with the intention of listening and giving your loved one space to share what they are ready to share with you that moment. What your loved one may need now more than ever is someone to simply listen and validate what they’re experiencing.
- “I believe you.”
- “You are not alone.”
- “This doesn’t change how I think of you.”
2) Remind them it wasn’t their fault.
Many survivors can place the blame on themselves. Remind them that they did nothing wrong and that the perpetrator is to blame. It is never the survivor’s fault this happened to them.
- “It’s not your fault.”
- “Nobody deserves this.”
- “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
3) Encourage your loved one to seek help that is right for them; when, and if it is right for them.
Everyone reacts to trauma in their own way. Your loved one may want to seek help, or they may not. Your loved one had a traumatic experience that makes them feel powerless. You can help them understand the options they have and support the decision they make as the right thing for them at that moment.
- “Are you open to seeking medical attention?”
- “Have you thought about learning about your legal options?”
- “Have you thought about reaching out to a hotline or a therapist for help thinking through your options?”
How to Access Help
Text or call Cleveland Rape Crisis Center’s 24/7 Crisis & Support Hotline at (216) 619-6192 or chat online at clevelandrapecrisis.org/chat for support and information. Learn more or request an appointment at clevelandrapecrisis.org. You can also call United Way 2-1-1 Help Center for support by simply dialing 2-1-1.
Learn more at clevelandrapecrisis.org/saam.
By Jamal Robinson, IT systems engineer, Progressive Insurance
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing to help others?” A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights activist I most admire.
This quote has been a driving factor in my personal and professional life. Community involvement to me means that I have the opportunity to inspire. Growing up, I had the opportunity to attend the Boys and Girls Clubs for two summers.
That experience was important to the development of life skills. I mention this because I now realize the bigger meaning in using community involvement to serve as a role model for children who are not exposed to many, or in some cases any, successful individuals.
Volunteering with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland has been one of the most rewarding activities that I have completed. I say this because I now realize the bigger picture of the Boys and Girls Clubs and how I have a direct impact to help children in underprivileged communities.
Because of my great volunteer experiences, I joined the Young Leaders marketing subcommittee in January 2018.
Jamal Robinson was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, when he was 12. Jamal completed his undergraduate studies at Georgia State University located in Downtown Atlanta. While attending Georgia State University, Jamal studied Computer Information Systems and graduated in 2017. Jamal was selected to complete an IT Internship at Progressive Insurance, located in Mayfield Village, Ohio, in the summer of 2017. After the internship, he was offered a full-time position working as an IT Systems Engineer with the infrastructure support team. Feel free to reach out to Jamal about community involvement, sports and new technology.
All she wanted was to be in school, learning new things with other kids her age. Instead, troubling family circumstances forced Teresa to assume the responsibilities of a parent when she was still just a child herself.
“At 9 years old I had to be mom to four kids,” she explained through tears, recounting why the burden fell on her shoulders.
With an alcoholic mother incapable of adequately caring for a family and an abusive stepfather, there seemed to be no choice.
“I couldn’t leave my brothers and sisters alone to go to school. And if I didn’t get them to school and make sure they got their homework done and they had baths and they had food, no one else did. I had to protect them.”
“I was never given an opportunity to go to high school. And I love school. I do well in school. I love to learn,” said Teresa, who recently earned her GED from Seeds of Literacy.
The responsibilities thrust upon her at home only grew with time. The sacrifice became permanent.
“I was never given an opportunity to go to high school,” she said. “And I love school. I do well in school. I love to learn.”
Planting a seed
Years later, that love of learning led Teresa to a place where adults without diplomas get a second chance.
“Seeds of Literacy is amazing,” are words she chose to describe the United Way-funded organization that has helped thousands of Cleveland-area residents living in poverty achieve their high school equivalency.
Teresa recently passed all her subject tests at Seeds of Literacy to finish her GED after a combined seven months of tutoring and hard work.
“When I got my results after opening my email it felt amazing. It felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. I could breathe,” she said.
For more than 20 years, Seeds of Literacy has provided free, one-to-one instruction that prepares adult students to advance their education, with the ultimate goal of financial stability.
And the need to advance educational opportunities in our region is great, as is financial stability — both United Way core impact areas, alongside health and basic needs.
According to Seeds of Literacy, nearly two-in-three adults residing in Cleveland are functionally illiterate, and 88 percent of the agency’s students live at or below federal poverty guidelines.
A blossoming future
For Teresa, earning a GED enabled her to meet the requirements of a local employer, where she now works in a job she loves. The accomplishment, according to her tutor, could also be viewed favorably by a judge in a legal battle to regain custody of her 9-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. She also aspires to eventually go to college and study engineering.
Teresa told us she’s grateful and encourages others to support programs that provide opportunities for adults to complete their schooling.
“Donating to United Way of Greater Cleveland is extremely important because if people don’t put other people first, other people can’t become stable enough to do it on their own,” she said. “And that is my final goal. Becoming stable enough to do it on my own and stand on my own two feet.”
Watch and listen to Teresa’s experience and transformation at Seeds of Literacy below.
Watch Teresa’s Video
By Maryann Kuzila, LPCC-S, Neighborhood Family Practice behavioral health therapist
People with mental health issues often feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or believe they should handle their struggles alone. Many times, they don’t even know there is help available.
At Neighborhood Family Practice (NFP), a United Way funded organization, our medical providers, behavioral health providers and other care team members work together to identify when a patient is struggling early on and provide the support that is best suited for him or her.
The toll of stressors, how to support
We know that the toll of stressors on a person’s physical and mental health can be enormous. At NFP, we believe strong relationships between providers and patients are key to creating a trusting space for patients to discuss their struggles. Regular screenings related to, for example, substance use and depression allow the medical provider to link the patient to appropriate mental health services.
Patients may struggle with depression, loss of employment, caring for an ill family member, relationship issues and much more. We realize that supporting the patient early on prevents the problem from worsening. Letting the patient know they do not need to carry the burden alone is perhaps even more important in successful treatment.
Personal forms of assistance
One of the ways NFP assists patients is by offering a personalized session with a member of our behavioral health team. After undergoing a thorough assessment with the behavioral health team, the patient and therapist develop a course of treatment that will benefit the patient most. Other times, the patient’s needs require that we pair them with other organizations and resources in the community. With the assistance of our linkage coordinator, we help them navigate that process.
Our patients report feeling very supported by our team approach to their care. At NFP, it’s our belief that everyone deserves access to care regardless of ability to pay, and to be treated with compassion, dignity and respect.
Maryann Kuzila, LPCC-S
Neighborhood Family Practice behavioral health therapist
Maryann Kuzila, LPCC-S, began working at Neighborhood Family Practice in 2013 as a behavioral health therapist. She previously worked at Recovery Resources as a mental health assessor, clinical therapist, group facilitator and alcohol and drug therapist. Maryann has over 15 years in the field and holds a bachelor of arts in Psychology from Cleveland State and a master of arts in Counseling and Human Services from John Carroll University.
It’s hard to imagine the slight frame of Tracie Chandler supporting 240 pounds. But for years that’s the burden she endured—a burden that led to a debilitating combination of physical and mental health problems that seemed insurmountable.
“I was unhealthy; high blood pressure, then I developed eczema, and developed chronic depression,” Tracie recalls. “I knew I had to make a change.”
“The more and more care I started getting here, everything changed on me from the inside out,” Tracie Chandler, patient.
Finding the courage
Change came when Tracie summoned the courage to walk through the doors of Neighborhood Family Practice, a clinic located across from the grocery store where she had made so many poor dietary choices and experienced crippling anxiety attacks.
A sense of hope blossomed from the moment she made her first appointment.
“The more and more care I started getting here, everything changed on me from the inside out,” she said.
Neighborhood Family Practice, a United Way-funded partner, offers primary care services regardless of ability to pay in a dozen neighborhoods throughout Cleveland. Doctors, nurses and social workers focus on an integrated health approach, always seeking to identify and treat a patient’s physical and mental health concerns.
Tracie’s treatment has been a success. Through counseling and medical care, she slimmed down to 124 pounds and no longer requires prescription medications for hypertension and high cholesterol.
She’s proud of her ability to substitute healthier foods for the cake, chips and soda that once fueled her weight gain, and she exercises regularly by taking long walks. Ongoing meetings with her behavioral health therapist have kept her on track for nearly seven years.
“I want to get the word out and be a voice to other women that you can do it,” Tracie urged. “If I did it you can do it. We all can walk this journey together.”
Watch and listen to Tracie’s powerful experience at Neighborhood Family Practice below.