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Why Uma Thurman supports this nonprofit for Mother’s Day


Twenty-five years ago, when Julie Burns, founder of Room to Grow, founded her non-profit organization that helps parents and children in impoverished families, actress Uma Thurman was her neighbor. Burns recalls, “Uma was pregnant with her first child at the time.” Fast-forward to today and Thurman’s first child, Maya Hawke, is now 24 and also an actor in the business, known for her role as Robin on Stranger things.

Room to grow also blooms over the years. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the charity group, which has roots spanning New York City and Boston and currently works with 1,300 families. There are also plans to expand to a third region. Their secret to success? The organization takes a unique three-pronged approach to helping children in their first three years, providing child development support, parenting support, and essential items such as books and clothing for babies and toddlers.

“Eighty percent of a child’s brain develops before their third birthday,” says Thurman, one of the nonprofit’s founders and its ambassador. “Room to Grow intervenes during the incredibly critical, life-changing years that put children on a path to health and success. The work being done is vital to so many who do not have access to these resources.”

Led by CEO Akilah B. King, the organization provides a comprehensive approach that empowers families and benefits children before they are born. Parents can get started with Room to Grow in the last trimester of a pregnancy. Once every three months, until a child turns three, clients meet one-on-one with staff for two hours at one of the organization’s family centers in New York or Boston.

King explains, “We provide critical support to families raising children. Our families visit a family center once a quarter and we talk about the challenges and joys of early parenting and really focus on the needs of the child and their development to support the whole family.” She adds: “We are making connections to additional community resources. This really helps expand our families support network and address issues ranging from housing to healthcare to employment.”

Room to Grow offers books for families as well as parenting support and services that benefit children’s development.

Room to grow

In the United States in 2023, poverty for a family of three (for example) is defined as earning less than $24,860 per year. Parents who have been clients of Room to Grow in these circumstances say the organization has helped them reduce stress and feel confident about parenting. Not to mention, an impressive nine out of ten children in the program meet or exceed their developmental milestones. “At the end of the day, our job is to try and close gaps in performance and opportunity. If we invest in these kids early on, they will eventually have a bigger and better trajectory in life. That is the vision of our work,” says King.

On Mother’s Day, the nonprofit is seeking donors to support the group’s mission to help families. There are a number of ways to help, from donating baby and toddler items the organization’s wish list) making financial donations. Room to Grow is also looking for volunteers to help sort and organize essential items in its family centers.

This fall, the nonprofit will also hold its 25th anniversary gala in New York.

Burns remembers the organization’s early days. “I worked as a therapist with school-aged children. This was in the mid 90’s and at that time I had recognized a lack of support services for children under the age of 3. dramatic is the long-term impact of those experiences. I saw that no other organization was providing the comprehensive support needed for children in these most vulnerable years.”

“I realized,” Burns continues, “that it needed a robust model of service that meets all of the child’s needs, not just the child’s physical development, but also the kind of all-encompassing involvement with the parents as the primary teachers. and sources of support.”

As the organization reaches its 25-year milestone, Burns has reconnected with families who are former Room to Grow customers. “When I started the organization, I actually worked as a clinician and ran the organization. It was a one-man business for a while. So these late-’90s families now have kids in their mid-20s,” says Burns, who is compiling a retrospective study of where families are now.

Recently, Burns came into contact with a mother she first worked with in the late 1990s. “I dialed her number and she picked it up right away and it’s such a cliché, the years really melted away,” says Burns. “When I told her who I was, she almost screamed. It was so beautiful and so positive. She was on a cruise ship performing as a jazz singer and I remember it being such a dream of hers at the time. She was on a beach in Honduras on a day off, but she also shared with me that her son is in his senior year at Howard University studying engineering and he is also a math teacher.

Burns is also deeply grateful for Thurman’s unwavering support, who has stood by her from the start. “Honestly, I never imagined in my mind that we would be sitting here 25 years later and that Uma would be as involved and committed and engaged as she is,” says Burns.

Thurman adds, “Working with Room to Grow and Julie Burns over the past 25 years has been one of the greatest honors of my life.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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