Julia Young is the founder and executive director of Page 15. This local nonprofit organizes many different programs that aim to enhance reading and writing abilities for kids of all ages. Page 15 organizes events including the High School Writers Competition, Young Writers Summer Camp and Page 15 Parramore, an after-school literacy program.
Young is also co-founder and executive director of the Urban Think Foundation, an umbrella organization of Page 15 and Burrow Press, a local independent publishing company. The local independent Urban Think! Bookstore operated from 2001 to 2010 in downtown Orlando.
In a decade of work at Page 15, Julia Young has motivated kids in the Orlando area to read and write while also giving them the opportunity to be published.
So, you recommended Foxtail Coffee as a place to meet for this interview. Is this one of your favorite downtown hangouts? What are some other favorite spots downtown?
This is one of the places I like to hang out. I live in Audubon Park, so I kind of stick to coffee at Foxtail, lunch at either Black Bean Deli or there’s Thai Café, which is a tiny little Thai restaurant right downtown by the post office that we all love.
You grew up in Orlando. Talk about your childhood.
I grew up in downtown Orlando. My parents live on South Street. I grew up, in a lot of ways, in the place that Page 15 is serving. I grew up in what is essentially Thornton Park now.
I went to school and lived in New Orleans for four years and then traveled a bit overseas. I lived in France for a little while, lived in Peru for a little while. It’s funny because I have a business degree, but teaching and kids and books is something I always kept coming back to. Any break I had, like when I went to France, I was a nanny for two kids and I would teach them English and we would read. And then when I went to Peru for a little bit, I worked as a volunteer teacher and I would teach kids English.
The name Page 15 comes from your grandmother’s advice to get to page 15 before deciding whether to continue a book. Talk about her legacy and what impact she had on you growing up.
She was just a huge lover of books. She loved mystery novels. I have a very clear picture of her in my mind of sitting in this one armchair by her window smoking a cigarette, just reading. That was what she loved.
Where the name came from was when I was up there, I would go through books all the time. You know, like a kid without patience trying to just figure out what book worked for them. So, I would go through all of these books and not decide on one.
It was just one of those moments where somebody looks at you and they’re like, “You have to set a goal.” You have to get to page 15 before you can decide to give up or keep going in a book. It was just one of those things that stuck with me. And from that point forward, it was always like I knew what I was working for. I knew that I had to give a book a chance. I knew that I had to make an investment up to page 15. What I love about it is it gives you a chance to pick up a book, make a little bit of investment of time and it gives you a page number to get to. Usually by page 15, you can decide whether you like the book or not.
Reading seems to have a sort of stigma with children. When talking to kids about reading as a hobby you might hear something like, “People still read?” How can we combat that sort of attitude? You’ve seen kids get excited and passionate about reading in your programs.
I’m going through this personally with my own life. I have two young sons who are in first grade and second grade. They’re learning to read and just like anything, reading takes practice. The more frequently you do it, the better you get.
Everybody loves stories. We tell stories all day long, and I think that humans are wired to appreciate stories, but reading is a skill. So, I think that there will always be a challenge, and I think the way people read will continue to change. We read differently than we did even 20 years ago. I read on a Kindle exclusively. So, it doesn’t matter to me what form you get it in.
You talked about your sons just now getting to that age where they start reading. Do they have favorite books?
We read every night together, and that’s a lot of it too. Kids learn by being read to. So we do a little bit of both. They each read 20 minutes for school a day. Sometimes we’ll do, “You do a page, I’ll do a page,” but we read chapter books together – the three of us – every single night.
Their favorite book is “Where the Red Fern Grows.” The other funny thing is that it’s been great for me because I get to revisit all these books that I either read when I was a child, or thought I’d read, or might have read or didn’t read but wanted to read. Some of these old classics.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading two books. One fiction and one non-fiction, and I’m terrible with author names, but the fiction book I’m reading is called “The Power” and it’s kind of speculative fiction. It’s basically where women have suddenly awakened an electric force within their bodies. It sounds very strange, but it’s so good. And that’s why I say speculative fiction, because it’s almost science fiction.
Then the other book that I’m reading is called “The Coddling of the American Mind.” It was actually a book that was written first as a small article in The Atlantic. This is really about, personally, a topic I’m passionate which is how to have shared conversations. It’s really about what’s happening on universities with the fear of sharing truths and it talks a lot about micro-aggressions and the culture that is being built around victimization and not wanting to say the wrong thing. But it’s talking about how to become, how to teach your kids, and how to create a society where we’re talking to each other. Where we’re not so afraid of offending each other that we can begin healthy communications.
It’s been 10 years with Page 15, and you say that page 15 is when you should decide whether or not to continue a book. What about your business? It looks like you’ve decided to continue with the story of Page 15. How far along are you?
That’s a good question. I’m very aware that there is a certain syndrome in nonprofits called the “founder’s syndrome.” It is where the founder who originally had the idea, who has all the passion and really gave birth to this beautiful thing, often can’t find their way through to really see what’s possible or really accepting change that needs to happen in certain ways. When I started the organization, I was doing everything.
So, I’m very aware of that situation…I’m also a person that understands change – change is uncomfortable. My goal with Page 15 and the foundation is if I’m not serving it well, there needs to be other people, because it’s really not about me. I know it’s named after my grandmother, but it’s not about me. It’s really about the foundation, and my goal is for it to be living well after I’m gone.