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.
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
It was clear that this wasn’t going to be a typical night at the theater.
This was apparent when the entire cast stepped into the audience, passed out $1,000 in cash, and asked every person in the crowd to choose how to best spend that money in the fight against poverty.
Certainly not when the plot demands audience members passionately express their deeply held opinions about the problem with strangers in the next row.
But a show entitled “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes” reveals, by name alone, its monumental ambition. This aspiration is precisely why United Way of Greater Cleveland decided to help bring the nationally acclaimed production to Northeast Ohio.
“This innovative play challenges common assumptions about the faces of poverty and how people fall into desperate circumstances,” said August Napoli, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland. “We wanted to shatter those stereotypes and strip away preconceived notions, and I think this powerful production does just that.”
“Those of us who have had a lot of opportunity in our lives don’t even think about how the basic things that we take for granted are enormous challenges for people in poverty.”
– August Napoli, president & CEO, United Way of Greater Cleveland
United Way sponsored last month’s six-performance run of “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes” at Cleveland Public Theatre after Executive Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan proposed the two organizations collaborate on the venture.
“For a long time I’ve been wanting to bring this play to Cleveland but I couldn’t quite figure out the right partners,” said Bobgan. “And it was just so exciting to have United Way of Greater Cleveland step up.”
All shows sold out, including a matinee reserved exclusively for local high school students from a variety of schools in the community.
What is the play about?
The production unfolded in a fast-paced fusion of traditional and non-traditional theatrical elements, mostly on stage, but sometimes moving into the audience.
Among the most powerful scenes are vignettes in which actors portray everyday people struggling with hunger, low wages, racism and violent crime. Other jarring moments played out in just a few searing lines of debate between characters.
Interpretive dances and a musical number became tactics to creatively examine common notions about poverty. One of these notions included the long-held American ideal that it’s more admirable to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” instead of asking for help.
One scene transformed the theater into a social-activism quiz show, with audience members asked to stand front-and-center while answering multiple-choice questions about the demographics of poverty. The information appears on large video screens, while the crowd shouts out suggestions.
At other points throughout the performance, backstage interviews with special guests were broadcast live onto the screens.
What does the play do to help people?
The crux of “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes” is the climactic decision the audience is asked to make at the finale of every show. They are asked to vote on how to best allocate $1,000 from ticket sales and United Way-support to combat local poverty.
The money must be directed toward one of five anti-poverty strategies: daily needs, making opportunities, system change, education or direct aid. A United Way-funded agency within the randomly selected winning category received the donation.
Cast members steered the decision-making process by leaving the stage to interact with their designated audience sections. The performers served as town-hall discussion leaders, encouraging lively conversations about priorities and the best way to help others, urging audience members to keep in mind what they may have learned throughout the show.
“We are not so arrogant as to decide for the people where they should contribute,” Napoli pointed out. “Our job is to show the impact, make the case, and then get out of the way.”
United Way of Greater Cleveland Board Chairman Marc Byrnes attended opening night and is confident the project will have a lasting impact.
“Leveraging the arts to share a critical social issue as pressing as poverty is an incredibly exciting way to expand beyond our workplace campaign,” Byrnes said. “We believe this play will motivate people throughout our community to have a productive dialogue and become more active in overcoming the increasing barriers poverty has on so many individuals and families in Cuyahoga County.”
The show’s full title is “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes (with 119 people you may or may not know).”
“Cleveland is a logical stop because it is an incredible American city with history of greatness and challenge, like many other American cities,” explained Rohd, who expressed gratitude to United Way for sponsoring the play and to Cleveland Public Theatre for extending the invitation to have it produced here.
United Way leaders are eager to further explore ways to collaborate with arts organizations to generate more awareness, volunteerism and philanthropy in the battle against poverty.
“People have been talking about the intersection of the arts and social justice to transform lives and communities for a long time,” Napoli said. “It’s important to move beyond simply talking about it – and this collaboration is actually doing it – and breaking ground.”
They see daily success in the accomplishments of Clubhouse members who are gaining stability and greater independence in the supportive environment of their unique center on University Circle.
Adults who have experienced limitations because of their mental-health issues work in close partnership with staff to develop marketable job skills that lead to gainful employment opportunities both there at the Clubhouse and throughout the community.
“Doctors had told me I wouldn’t be able to work. But by coming to the Clubhouse I said people here are just like me. They’re working. So I’m going to try,” said Lakecia, client and now employed as a result of help from the Clubhouse. “Without the clubhouse, I just wouldn’t have been able to sustain…”
They guide members in furthering their education by making measurable progress toward attaining a GED or attending college. Valuable life-skills are cultivated through our onsite programs that include: financial management, food service, horticulture, writing and video production.
Magnolia Clubhouse medical staff ensures members have access to the primary care and psychiatric services they need.
What they do works. Data shows Magnolia Clubhouse clients have higher rates of employment and lower rates of hospitalization and incarceration. They also report a decrease in the frequency and intensity of symptoms.
“The really great thing about being here at Magnolia Clubhouse is we’re all a family. I feel like I’ve got 75 brothers and sisters. It’s just a wonderful place to be,” said William, a Magnolia Clubhouse member.
Please watch the video below to better understand the difference they make in the lives of Magnolia House members:
It’s easy to get the attention of kids when you show up in a Santa hat bearing gifts. But on this crisp, snowy night, United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders did more than just play Kris Kringle for the evening. They also made another stride in their continued mission to help children at King Kennedy Boys & Girls Clubs find the path to success.
Members of the Young Leaders cabinet walked into the club Dec. 14 with brightly wrapped boxes of presents specially chosen to inspire both fun and learning.
“We always want the kids to have fun, but we also want them to develop the kinds of skills they can put to use at school and at home,” said Bill Donatone, Young Leaders cabinet co-chair. “They have so much potential and we’re dedicated to ensuring they rise to that potential.”
“When we see how the kids respond we can tell this is making a difference. We want them to thrive in life, and you know what? They will.”
– Logan Broadbent, Young Leaders cabinet co-chair
The gifts, purchased through donations raised by this year’s Young Leaders, included multiple games of checkers, Pictionary, Mancala and Connect Four, along with Wii remote controls. Some of the children broke into new packs of Uno and flash cards, while others put jump ropes and pool cues to immediate use.
Santa’s bag was also filled with 100 books donated by Scholastic Inc. in support of Young Leaders’ adopted mission of reducing the low-income achievement gap for children at the club. The group’s earlier projects included raising funds to establish special reading rooms in several local schools.
United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Young Leaders are rising professionals in their twenties and thirties who work to make our community better through philanthropy, volunteerism and advocacy. The program boasts a network of more than 2,000 members.
Young Leaders set example for volunteers of the future
While the children were certainly surprised by the gifts, they were already quite familiar with the faces that delivered them. These Young Leaders have forged a close relationship with the boys and girls at King Kennedy over the past year, visiting the club monthly and engaging in activities with the children to teach social skills.
Some activities and skills could entail playing basketball or billiards together to impart lessons in good sportsmanship, or eating lunch as a group and encouraging the children to focus on good nutrition and cleaning up after a meal.
One of the girls told United Way of Greater Cleveland the visits and mentoring she received from Young Leaders instilled more confidence in herself.
“I feel like they really cared about me and want me to do well,” said 10-year-old Rocsheil Taylor. “We also have a really good time together!”
Watch the Event
The Young Leaders cabinet debuted the latest installment of their Readers Become Leaders room at Harrison Elementary School in Lakewood on Dec. 1.
The funding to install this room came from funds raised at Fall Ball. This yearly event is a collaboration with United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Community Impact department and a donation from the Cleveland Kid’s Book Bank.
The Harrison Elementary site is the third reading room installment, with one already in existence at Superior Elementary and Thoreau Park. The Readers Become Leaders’ program is slowly becoming a favorite event among the Young Leaders’ cabinet. “The looks on the kids’ faces is what makes it so worthwhile,” said Bill Donatone, co-chair of the Young Leaders’ cabinet. Allison Taller Reich, Young Leaders’ co-chair added, “It’s also hilarious when they enjoy us reading to them and they engage in the story!”
Students from kindergarten to second grade visited the room for the first time on opening day since it’s been recreated with new books, furniture, decorations and more to make it as comfortable and exciting a learning environment as possible. The cabinet members read to the students and each student received a bookbag with books, a coloring book and crayons to take home. According to Sabrina Crawford, principal at Harrison, the bags were a hit. “Many of the students wanted to walk around with their bags on all day,” she noted.
The room is important for students because “they don’t see it as a place where they have to go, but a place they can choose to go to,” said Mrs. Crawford. “Now they [the students] have a special place that is a very comfortable, relaxed space where they can come read to one another, go in place of recess… they are excited about earning time in the room.”
The school also nominated fifth graders as “reading ambassadors” who will help keep the room organized and act as room assistants with students from younger grades.
By Zerrine K. Bailey, Healthy Schools program manager, Cleveland Metropolitan School District
In early August, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation launched the America’s Healthiest Schools campaign, recognizing 323 schools across the country that are creating healthier learning environments where children can thrive. As a Healthy Schools Program Manager, I work with 78 Cleveland schools to create sustainable, healthy change for students and staff.
All of America’s Healthiest Schools received National Healthy Schools Awards – a prestigious achievement that celebrates schools that meet or exceed stringent standards for serving healthier meals and snacks, getting students moving more, offering high-quality physical and health education and empowering school leaders to become healthy role models.
This year, six Cleveland schools received national recognition for their transformative health and wellness efforts:
- Andrew J. Rickoff
- Artemus Ward
- Ginn Academy
- Miles Park
- Robert H. Jamison
These schools are leaders in the Cleveland Community and in the nationwide movement to create healthier schools for kids. They became America’s Healthiest Schools by going the extra mile. They encouraged their scholars to:
- Get up and move by taking brain breaks during the school day;
- To find time in the week to provide students with a minimum of 60 minutes of physical education time (national recommendation);
- To consume healthier food and beverage snack options during the day;
- To support staff and families in becoming healthier, so they could serve as role models for our young people;
- … and so much more.
Ms. Sharra Wimberly, Fullerton wraparound coordinator, noted:
“The primary business of any school is education. However, research shows that students learn best when they are healthy, safe and feel connected to their school. An investment in a healthy school community is an investment in student success. Here at Fullerton we felt it was important to take a holistic approach to our scholars well-being, so we focused on physical health, mental health along with academics and behaviors. The goal was to promote health and well-being for all members of the school community [scholars, staff and community].”
Every school is capable of becoming one of America’s Healthiest Schools. It starts with each of us committing to support our schools (even in small ways) to reach this goal. Studies show that healthy students learn better. They perform better on tests, get better grades, attend school more often and behave better in class. This speaks to the primary business of schools.
If we start today, we can inspire the next generation of healthier young people. To learn more about creating healthier schools in our community, visit the Alliance for a Healthier Generation website.
Zerrine K. Bailey serves as the Healthy Schools Program Manager for Cleveland Metropolitan School District. She is funded through a generous grant from the United Way of Greater Cleveland, St. Luke’s Foundation, and Mt. Sinai HealthCare Foundation to work with 78 schools within Cleveland Metropolitan School District to create sustainable healthy changes for students and staff.
United Way of Greater Cleveland is proud to be part of the exploratory group working to bring Say Yes to Cleveland.
The bold promise of Say Yes is to bring together an entire community to ensure each of its children has the opportunity –and the support – to go to college. Using last-in-dollar scholarships as a catalyst, Say Yes partners with communities to create systems intended to help every child progress along the pathway to post-secondary success.
Partners from the public, philanthropic, nonprofit and private sectors are working together over the next 12 to 18 months on the complexities required for consideration by Say Yes.
We’re also glad for the ongoing support and encouragement from the Say Yes team. As Say Yes Chief Operating Officer Eugene Chasin says, “it’s clear to the senior leadership of Say Yes that Cleveland is a community with a fierce desire to give its young people access to higher education, armed with the support to succeed in obtaining a college degree or other postsecondary credential.”
“At United Way, we know it takes a village to ensure our community’s kids have everything they need to succeed academically and ultimately pursue higher education,” said United Way of Greater Cleveland President and CEO August Napoli. “If Cleveland is successful in becoming a partner community with Say Yes, we are excited about the opportunity to wrap holistic services – everything from tutoring to health care – to elementary, middle and high school students. Say Yes is an innovative strategy that will create new excitement about education in our community.”
In the coming months, our work includes:
- Determining the parameters and criteria to provide last-dollar tuition scholarships to qualifying students admitted to an in-state public college or university
- Establishing a local fundraising committee and raising a significant portion of the scholarship fund as part of the approval process
- Identifying the necessary in-school and out-of-school supports and services and related public and philanthropic funding sources to meet the development needs of every child
If Say Yes ultimately approves Cleveland’s application, the organization would commit to invest $15 million in the community over six years, as various milestones are achieved. Those funds are not intended to be used to pay for scholarships. Rather, they would help to finance the scaffolding of a communitywide governance structure to manage the local Say Yes partnership and to seed student and family supports that, in other Say Yes communities, have included school-based social work; mental and physical health; legal services; college and career counseling; tutoring, and robust after-school and summer enrichment programs.
United Way is a member of the Cleveland exploratory group along with City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Cleveland Foundation and College Now of Greater Cleveland.
By Cheryl A. Parzych, Chief Executive Officer, United Way of Medina County
Since 2014, nearly 25 United Way Youth Venture (UWYV) teams have launched in Medina County. This work has been made possible by the generous underwriting of founding supporter Tyco/Simplex Grinnell.
Their critical underwriting was renewed in 2017 with a grant award of $15,000. With this funding, United Way of Medina County is looking to increase the number of new students actively involved in United Way Youth Venture by 100.
UWYV is designed to engage youth in their community, helping them graduate well-prepared for life after high school by ensuring that they gain essential knowledge, skills and experiences beyond the classroom.
To accomplish this, students form teams that lead their own discovery, design and execution of initiatives to better their communities. Adult volunteers serve in positions of UWYV Champion or Ally to keep the programs organized and act as resources to the participants. Community leaders sit on UWYV panels to review project presentations, provide experienced feedback and award seed money from the program when the teams are ready to launch. Everyone is empowered by the experience.
In Medina County, UWYV partners within school districts and with outside partners like Junior Leadership of Medina County. Two strong school-based programs, demonstrating the power of UWYV, are Brunswick’s Professionals of Tomorrow and Buckeye Blanket Buddies. Both are school-based and now self-sustaining.
The vision and continued commitment of Tyco/Simplex Grinnell toward youth in our county, and in others across the country, is ensuring that we all have a strong tomorrow.
Preschool is typically the first structured learning environment for toddlers, designed to instill critical building blocks needed to succeed in life. These include social skills, emotional development, academic awareness, cognitive abilities, and speech. According to a National Education Association research study, “providing a high quality education for children before they turn five yields significant long-term benefits.”
Social Skills and Emotional Development
Early childhood education helps children learn how to play and interact with others and communicate effectively to best reduce conflicts. With continued and proper guidance, learning appropriate social skills can drastically change how a child interacts with others in a positive fashion throughout their lives. Skills like sharing, impulse control, and following instructions are all greatly improved.
An article from the National Association for the Education of Young People stated, “The absence of positive social interactions in childhood is linked to negative consequences later in life, such as withdrawal, loneliness, depression, and feelings of anxiety.”
Children with preschool experience excel at math and literacy skills, and they also show an enhanced curiosity for science. These are strong indicators that a child will continue to thrive educationally. Small projects are implemented to teach kids, producing a less stressful environment. Games involving matching shapes, sizes, or numbers are common tools, among others.
Additionally, many learning disabilities can be identified in early childhood education, and interventional support can be instituted if necessary.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Young children need teachers who take time to work with them individually, in small groups, and sometimes with the entire class to help them develop their cognitive and social skills, their language abilities and their interest in learning new things about the world.”
Cognitive Skills and Speech
Children develop or expand their vocabulary and fine-tune their speech at an early age. “By age 5, children essentially master the sound system and grammar of their language and acquire a vocabulary of thousands of words,” stated Eric Hoff, Ph.D., in a research paper published by the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. Preschools provide environments to help kids cultivate conversational speech patterns and communicate more effectively, better preparing them to master the sound system and grammar.
A research report published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development revealed that children who attend preschool show “increased high school graduation rates and decreased crime and delinquency rates.”
United Way of Greater Cleveland funds numerous programs through its Community Impact agenda to support early childhood education for low-income children in Cuyahoga County. The importance of preschool in developing social and emotional development and cognitive and speech skills using specialized academic strategies is of great importance. When all children are given the opportunity to learn at an early age, they are more prone to succeed in life, becoming a vital part of their community’s success.