Two friends turn adversity into charity through Heifer International [Fulton/Highland]

Very few people go through life without suffering some sort of adversity. How a person responds to adversity says a lot about their character.

Two local women have shown the stuff they are made of. For Julie Kaplan and her friend Julie Phillips, 2011 was a terrible year, one full of grief, frustration and unwelcome drama, one emotional disaster after another, the tragic losses of close friends and parents suffering from life-threatening health events.

As 2011 came to a close, the two friends "decided to make 2012 memorable in a positive way as a way of putting 2011 behind us for good."

Julie Phillips remembered that someone had given a goat or a flock in her name through a group called Heifer International. The website,, tells the story of how one man, Dan West, an Indiana farmer, volunteer relief worker and member of Church of the Brethren, came to understand that the orphans and refugees of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) needed "a cow, not a cup" ( a twist on "give a man a fish, teach a man to fish").

And so, in 1944, the first cows were sent abroad, donated by West's neighbors and distributed throughout Europe following World War II and a different kind of charity was born. Julie Phillips wrote, "I am attracted to charities where people are empowered to help themselves like Heifer, Women for Women International and Habitat for Humanity."

Now, the two Julie's had the beginnings of a plan. Julie K. is a native of Montgomery County, having grown up in in Rockville. In 1995, she and her husband Ira moved to Howard County shortly after they wed, choosing to settle in Columbia. In 2001, they moved to Fulton where she and Ira and their kids continue to live.

Julie P., on the other hand, was born in Washington, D.C., but grew up in Howard County, and is a product of the Howard County Public School System.

Returning to their plan: they decided to commit to "building an ark" for Heifer International by raising $5,000. A "gift ark" provides two of every heifer animal. Calling themselves "J2", their purpose was "to flood our lives with giving, optimism, and hope enough to float a boat full of animals to people who needed them to survive."

This gift of animals will enable families to have a source of food and a source of income. And this gift doesn't stop there — the offspring of those animals will be given to another family in the community, passing on the hope and happiness. By the summer of 2012, J2 had raised $3,500. They started to look at other ways to raise money for their ark because they didn't want to go "back to our friends and family with hats in hand to beggar for more."

Julie P. suggested that they write a children's book. A few days later, Julie K. surprised Julie P. with a first draft and "Counting on Chicks" was born. Written by Julie Kaplan with illustrations by both Julie Phillips and Julie Kaplan, the story is about children from around the world doing their part to reduce hunger in their communities by raising chickens and sharing them with others.

The best part of this story is that it isn't finished. All of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Heifer International. What an awesome way to pay it forward!

You can help them by purchasing the book from Amazon ( or from Heifer directly ( Or, you can request it from the Howard County Library. After reading it, rate it on Amazon or Goodreads; organize a book signing party at your church, synagogue or other event; share it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media; blog about it!

If you would like to get in contact with either of the two Julie's, shoot me an email and I'll pass it on to them.

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