literacy

Teenage book lover collects 25,000 books for needy kids

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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.

How do you collect, organize and distribute all of those books?

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.

What motivates you to devote so much energy into this?

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.

It's considered especially important for children to keep reading over the summer. How are you making a difference in their ability to continue reading?

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.

What do you get personally out of your volunteerism? And, what would you say to others looking for a volunteer opportunity?

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:

Julia Foos - Stuff the Bus with Books - WEWS Channel 5 Cleveland Story with Homa Bash

Julia Foos
Book Lover and Youth Philanthropist

Julia Foos donates to Stuff the Bus United Way of Greater Cleveland
Quick Facts –

High School:
Hathaway Brown School

Family:
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.

Hobbies:
(besides reading a lot) Crafts, including knitting and sewing, and entertaining her dogs.

Future plans?
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.

 

Gift of Knowledge: Struggling mother earns her high school equivalency

Seeds of Literacy Cleveland - United Way Funded Partner
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.

Teresa and mentor - Seeds of Literacy Cleveland“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


Help us raise funds to combat illiteracy

 

Bold stage drama showcases power of the arts to help battle poverty

How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes - United Way & Cleveland Public Theatre
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?

How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes Cleveland, Ohio
Bobby Bermea*+ and audience members in discussion. Photo by Steve Wagner. *Actor appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. + Sojourn Theatre Artists

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.

How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes -- Sojourn Theatre Artists.
Jono Eiland, Alejandro Tey+, Sara Sawicki, Ananias J. Dixon, Bobby Bermea*+, Wes Allen, Nik Zaleski, Cathleen O’Malley, Tim Keo. Photo by Steve Wagner. *Actor appears courtesy of Actors’Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. + Sojourn Theatre Artists.

“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).”

It was conceived by Sojourn Theatre’s Michael Rohd, who took a break from his professorship at Arizona State University to direct the production in Ohio.

“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.

What’s next?

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.”


 

Coping with mental illness: moving clients from “survive” to “thrive”

Magnolia House Campus - Cleveland, Ohio
Used with permission from Magnolia Clubhouse
Through a compassionate blend of mental health services, employment training and friendship, Magnolia Clubhouse – a United Way-funded partner – empowers clients to achieve healthier and happier lives.

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:

Presents, life lessons from a special Santa

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.”

King Kennedy Body Copy Picture (Kids)

“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

United Way Young Leaders open another reading room at Harrison Elementary

Harrison Reading Room

 

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.

When growing up in poverty, it can be hard to see a way out

A Greater Cleveland Cleveland.com Poverty SeriesCleveland.com recently began a new series called “A Greater Cleveland,” highlighting the issue of generational poverty. The first article focused on children living in King Kennedy, a public housing complex on Cleveland’s east side. Kids growing up in poverty, like the kids in these articles, may not have access to healthy food, safe places to play, or high-quality educational opportunities. They may also face violence; sometimes on the streets and sometimes in their own homes.

More than 50 percent of kids in Cleveland live in poverty. This is an incredible statistic and is central to why Cleveland.com is telling stories about this complex issue — an issue that must be approached from many angles.

Mentoring through poverty

Often children growing up in poverty don’t have the benefit of a positive role model. One of the many factors that can influence a young person’s aspirations and outcomes, therefore, is whether or not they have a mentor. Mentors can provide a caring adult for kids to talk with, sharing insights, advice and experiences that are invaluable. Mentors can provide exposure to activities that a kid would normally not have access to and provide a view into various career paths.

In fact, a 2014 report from MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, reveals that at-risk youth with mentors are more likely to engage in positive activities, including volunteering, participating in school sports or clubs, and holding leadership positions in extracurricular activities. It was also reported that “more than three quarters (76 percent) of at-risk young adults who had a mentor aspire to enroll in and graduate from college versus half (56 percent) of at-risk young adults who had no mentor.”

Revealing needs in Greater Cleveland

United Way’s recently completed Community Assessment identified quality “out-of-school time” activities as a critical need for Greater Cleveland’s children. Mentoring is a proven best practice that can lead to social-emotional growth, improved academic performance and better school attendance. Not only does United Way support mentoring programs through its funding, the Young Leaders also volunteer with Boys and Girls Clubs at the very same King Kennedy housing complex featured on Cleveland.com.

Visit http://www.cleveland.com/a-greater-cleveland/ to read the stories and experience how poverty truly affects so many people in our region.


 

Please support United Way today
 

Planting the seeds of literacy throughout Greater Cleveland

By Seeds of Literacy Executive Director, Bonnie Entler
Seeds of Literacy is a nationally accredited non-profit organization that provides free basic education and GED® preparation to adults in the Cleveland area. Seeds believes that the root cause of poverty is illiteracy and that working together with students, volunteers, donors and more, we can put an end to this cycle. Led by more than 200 volunteer tutors, and overseen by professional educators, Seeds’ offers a personalized one-on-one model of learning, with flexible class times.

The Seeds’ program empowers adults to succeed by fighting the root cause of poverty: illiteracy. Studies show that an average of 66 percent of Clevelanders are functionally illiterate, with some neighborhoods as high as 85 percent. Functional illiteracy means they may have trouble understanding bus schedules, utility bills, or doctor’s instructions, and are unable to help their children with homework – all skills necessary for running a household.

“66 percent of Cleveland Adults are functionally illiterate”

The causes for illiteracy vary by individual, so in addition to educational instruction, Seeds’ instructors offer care and genuine concern for the welfare of students. This dynamic combination can be life changing – a powerful first step towards economic self-sufficiency, better health and the academic success of a student’s entire family.

We hold new student orientation every week and we’re open year-round so students can learn at their own pace and around their busy schedules.  Students set their individual educational goals in orientation, so rather than a one-size-fits-all curricula, instruction is completely customized for each individual. Students have the ability to attend any  – or all – of the classes that are offered three times a day, four days a week. We have both East and West side locations, conveniently located along major bus routes.

Find out how you can get involved with Seeds. Call us at 216.661.7950 or visit us at www.seedsofliteracy.org.

Check out the video below to get a glimpse into what we do here at Seeds of Literacy!

YWCA’s Early Learning Center changes lives

YWCA Greater Cleveland is dedicated to empowering women, but our organization does more than only serve women. The YWCA includes women and men as members, volunteers, supporters and leaders. Programs serve women and men, young adults, adolescents and children. We also provide services to other nonprofit organizations and the business community.

What does YWCA Greater Cleveland do?

The YWCA has responded to the special needs of young adults transitioning out of failing systems, such as foster care. YWCA Greater Cleveland created Independence Place to address the critical need for housing and supportive services of homeless youth. Independence Place is an apartment complex that provides permanent supportive housing to 23 formerly homeless youth, and in some cases their young children, along with case management and supportive services.

YWCA Greater Cleveland also pioneered the NIA program – Nurturing Independence and Aspirations. Under the guidance of a Life Coach, NIA participants pursue educational opportunities, focus on career development, receive housing assistance, learn the importance of health care, and develop life and parenting skills. NIA serves Independence Place residents as well as the YWCA’s Early Learning Center students and parents.

What is the YWCA Early Leaning Center?

The YWCA’s Early Learning Center serves children age three-to-five experiencing homelessness or similar adverse experiences. Our innovative trauma-informed model:

  • Assesses and identifies the social-emotional needs of the children
  • Works with families to create goals and case plans
  • Prevents the re-occurrence of homelessness
  • Empowers families to achieve and maintain the highest level of self-sufficiency

Recognized for our excellence and leadership in serving homeless youth and their families, in September 2016, YWCA Greater Cleveland was selected by a White House initiative, A Way Home America, as the lead agency for a community – wide collaboration of non-profit and government agencies. The collaborative, named A Place 4 Me, was challenged to house 100 homeless youth in 100 days. Together we exceeded that goal.

A Place 4 Me is a cross-sector initiative that harnesses the strengths and resources of its partners to prevent and end homelessness among young adults age 15 to 24 in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. A Place 4 Me is led by a steering committee consisting of the YWCA Greater Cleveland; Cuyahoga County Department of Health and Human Services, including the Division of Children and Family Services and the Office of Homeless Services; FrontLine Service; the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative; and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.

About YWCA Greater Cleveland

YWCA Greater Cleveland is a unique and vital community resource in Northeast Ohio committed to eliminating racism and empowering women. It was established in 1868 and with its 150th anniversary approaching, the YWCA is one of the oldest continuously operating nonprofits in Cleveland.

Family Connections brings families together, strengthens bonds

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.