Julia Foos saw a need in her community, so she decided to fill it.
For the 17-year-old bookworm, the idea that some kids don’t have any books of their own is unfathomable — and unacceptable. When Foos was 14 and a freshman in high school, she read an article about how many children in the Cleveland area don't have easy access to books. That reality lit a fire in her to do something.
"I think that kids who don't have access to books are missing out on opportunities to learn new things, explore different worlds, and increase the use of their imagination," says Foos. "Books can pull you into another world or teach you things you might never have thought of before."
Foos couldn't imagine having grown up without books, so she decided to help kids in the Cleveland area get books of their own.
Her Books Offer Opportunities for Kids (BOOK) project has collected and donated 25,000 books — in just three years.
"When I started this project, my goal was to collect 250 books," says Foos. "I reached out to family and friends, and after two weeks, I had collected over 500. It felt good and I thought that if I collected that many in two weeks, I wanted to try to collect more."
She set an ambitious goal to collect 25,000 books — a hundred times her original goal — by her senior year. She reached it a year early. Her secret? A personal touch. Foos reaches out to individuals, schools, and organizations and asks for donations of new or gently used books.
One she gets them, she passes them on to literacy organizations like Reach Out and Read,Cleveland Kids' Book Bank, and United Way's Stuff the Bus with Books campaign. "I wanted to get as many books as possible to kids who needed them. I donate the books to nonprofits that share this same mission."
Foos engages with the community she's serving — by reading with them, of course.
When she first started her project, it was just about collecting and donating books. But now she's started seeing the fruits of her labor firsthand.
"Over the past year, I began having events where I had contact with the kids who needed books," says Foos. "Their reactions were truly heartwarming. They were so excited to realize that they could pick out whatever books they wanted, as many as they wanted, that they were free, and that they could keep all of them. They couldn't believe it and it made me so happy! I was also able to read with kids, which I absolutely loved."
Teens can do amazing things when they are informed and encouraged.
Foos is making a measurable difference in her community with BOOK. Cleveland has one of the lowest literacy rates in the nation, and according to the Children's Literacy Foundation, 61% of low-income children in the U.S. grow up without any books in their home.
Foos became aware of the need, then she took the initiative to do something, even a modest something, to help remedy it. With encouragement from her parents and others in the community, she has exceeded even her own expectations — and she's not done. She hopes to collect 10,000 more books next year.
This generation of young people just keeps showing up and showing us what they're capable of.