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.
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.”
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 Joanne Federman, executive director, Family Connections of Northeast Ohio
For 35 years, Family Connections has been building connections with families and their children from birth through six years old. At Family Connections, we invite every family into a nurturing community to find their own path that promotes effective parenting for children that are prepared for success in school.
Our five staffed playrooms – three of them located in public libraries – offer a total of 65 hours per week of instructional playtime in the City of Cleveland, as well as Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights. Through our home visiting, school readiness program called SPARK (Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids), we are currently serving families in the City of Cleveland, East Cleveland, Maple Heights and Warrensville Heights.
United Way specifically funds our Family School Connection program, active in all seven elementary schools in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District, one in the Shaker Heights City School District and another in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Our family liaisons partner with parents to help young students master pre-reading skills.
Research, along with our experiences, shows that the same family support principles that worked 35 years ago are still as impactful and relevant as ever. That is why the valued support of United Way is critical in helping us strengthen families and improve early literacy.
By Sam Ameen, communications coordinator, Public Relations, Parma City School District
Thoreau Park Elementary Principal Jamie Franko was anxious to see the Reading Room the school was receiving from United Way of Greater Cleveland courtesy of the of Young Leaders and its Readers Become Leaders initiative. On May 12, the room was revealed to the students, faculty and staff.
“We’ve been really excited that we were given this opportunity. I’ve been really excited since they reached out to me in December and said that we were going to be the recipients of the room,” Franko said. “It totally went above and beyond my expectations for what I thought the Reading Room was going to look like.”
The room has an outer-space theme and was furnished with comfortable places to lounge and read a book, such as beanbag chairs. The Reading Room was supplied with 500 books, which were donated by the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank.
“It’s just another space in our building that really focuses on literacy and helps our students with early literacy and growing as students here,” Franko said.
“Kids were saying this is the greatest thing ever, they were thanking the Young Leaders, the volunteers for everything that they’ve done and I think just really made their day and it has already impacted our building,” Franko said.
The Reading Room is located outside of Principal Franko’s office in the main hallway for ease of access.
By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
Students may forget one to three months of learning during summer vacation, according to Dr. Harris Cooper, a Duke University psychology and neuroscience professor and expert in summer learning.
“Think of it this way — if summer vacation equals three months of learning lost, then from first to sixth grade, a student can lose up to 18 months of their skills,” wrote Julia Boxler, who leads youth programs at all 27 branches of Cuyahoga County Public Library, in a recent blog.
United Way of Greater Cleveland’s summer literacy campaign, including the “Stuff the Bus with Books” drive, strives to provide CMSD students with grade-appropriate reading material to curb learning loss during the break.
Funded in part with a grant provided by United Way Worldwide with money that it received from Red Nose Day, the first element of the strategy was a literacy awareness campaign for parents. The second was the Summer Learning Kick-Off and book drive.
The Summer Learning Kick-off took place May 19 at five CMSD Wraparound schools — Almira, Case, Harvey Rice, Patrick Henry and Walton. United Way partners with CMSD for the Wraparound initiative, which works to resolve poverty problems that can affect children’s academic performance. Each school’s site coordinator connects students and their families with individualized social, medical and community services.
According to Andrew Katusin, the education manager at United Way of Greater Cleveland, the events were staffed by volunteers from University Hospitals. The programs included fresh produce from Dave’s Market, raffles and career bingo — which invited older students to ask UH volunteers about their work. At Harvey Rice, the target school because of its proximity to UH’s main campus, there was also a DJ and Clifford the Big Red Dog.
Volunteers distributed 4,000 books to approximately 1,800 students in literacy packs, which included two books, a coloring or puzzle book and United Way of Greater Cleveland’s 2-1-1 Youth Pages.
“Stuff the Bus with Books” continues the literacy initiative by collecting donated books at locations throughout the city. It challenges companies to sponsor the drive or be a collection point.
In partnership with the Cleveland Indians, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, UPS, Nationwide and GE, collected books will be given to students at CMSD schools, three suburban schools — John Muir in Parma, John Dewey in Warrensville Heights and John F. Kennedy in Maple Heights — and local libraries participating in summer learning programs.
The drive ends with an event to fill an RTA bus with the collected books before the Indians game, Saturday, June 18 at Progressive Field.
For more information or to volunteer, visit https://www.unitedwaycleveland.org/stuffthebus/
Guest blogger, Julia Boxler leads youth programs at all 27 branches of Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL). Boxler coordinates programming for special needs and struggling readers, homework centers and summer reading and summer camps. She has established best practices for three major age ranges of youth services within CCPL.
Practice makes perfect, but what happens when we get out of practice? Whether it’s sports, reading or math, without practice your skills can become rusty. You may even end up needing to learn the skill all over again.
In summer, approximately half of all students essentially “take a break” from learning and as a result, lose many skills they learned during the school year, called learning loss or “summer slide.”
By Andrew Katusin, Education Program Associate, United Way of Greater Cleveland
In Greater Cleveland, we come together to support collective success, especially for our children. That’s just who we are.
The success of future generations, and our larger community, is directly tied to quality education beginning with the development of one major skill: reading. Our community continues to rally behind its children to provide support and resources needed for success. Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), United Way of Greater Cleveland, foundations and other local nonprofit organizations understand the importance and joined together to create a network to help our children become strong readers. Continue reading “Cleveland’s Success depends on the Next Generation”
On May 19, United Way of Greater Cleveland hosted summer learning kickoff events at five Cleveland Metropolitan School District schools. Each event promoted summer learning with literacy-themed raffles, giveaways, prizes and an opportunity to sign up for summer reading programs at neighborhood libraries. Literacy Explosions were hosted at Harvey Rice, Patrick Henry, Almira, Walton and Case elementary schools.
“Research shows students are susceptible to losing a large portion of what they’ve learned throughout the school year once summer break hits,” says United Way Vice President of Community Impact Traci Jadlos. “Our goal is to keep our community’s kids engaged in summer learning by combining academics with fun, hands-on learning experiences.”
Approximately 150 University Hospitals staff members volunteered at the summer learning kickoffs to distribute literacy kits and engage with students. The event was the inaugural volunteer opportunity for UH150 – a yearlong celebration of University Hospital’s 150th anniversary.
“We are extremely proud of our relationship with United Way and are excited to partner with them for this campaign,” said Steven Standley, UH chief administrative officer. “We are celebrating giving back to the community with our 150th and collaboration with United Way is a natural fit as we both have helped shape Cleveland’s charitable landscape.”
The Cleveland Public Library also participated in the summer learning kickoff. Librarians were on site to host storytelling sessions and encourage students to sign up for library cards and the annual summer reading program.
Dave’s Supermarket provided more than 3,600 pieces of fresh produce to all five schools to serve as healthy, kid-friendly snacks for the event.
“United Way hosted these fun-filled summer learning kickoffs to remind more than 1,700 local students to continue reading and learning during their vacation,” said Jadlos.
Funding for United Way of Greater Cleveland’s literacy campaign, which includes the summer learning kickoffs, was provided by Red Nose Day USA – a $23 million campaign to address children’s issues in the United States and 14 other countries.