Julia LeHew of Sykesville founded a nonprofit organization as part of a Girl Scout project when she was just 11 years old. Now, she is being recognized for her efforts.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot virtually presented the 2019 William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award for Carroll County to Pass Love Around, LeHew’s nonprofit, that makes and sells pet products to provide school supplies for underprivileged children in Title 1 elementary schools in Maryland, according to a release from the comptroller’s office.
Now 15, LeHew’s goal for Pass Love Around aims to close the local achievement gap by ensuring all children have access to necessary learning tools. The Community Foundation of Carroll County holds the nonprofit license for Pass Love Around, which is based in Sykesville.
Her inspiration for the nonprofit started when she applied to receive her Bronze Award through her Girl Scout organization. The Bronze Award is the highest honor a Junior Girl Scout can achieve and is designed for girls to use their skills and interests to take action and make a difference with a community project.
“I love animals and everything, so I wanted to do something that combined those two,” LeHew said. “We ended up coming up with this and have been able to support different students and I love the feeling of giving back and helping the community. We’ve been able to help hundreds of students to get the school supplies they need to help them with school and everything, so it’s been awesome to see how much it actually helps them.”
Title 1, Part A is a federal program signed by President Barack Obama in December 2015 that provides financial assistance to local school systems and schools with high percentages of poor children, to support the academic achievement of disadvantaged students, according to the Maryland Department of Education website.
There are currently 423 Title 1 elementary schools in Maryland, as of March 11. LeHew and her team review a list of these schools every year and focus on the schools with the highest percentage of students in need.
LeHew, a rising sophomore at Glenelg Country School, said she starts with the Carroll County Title 1 schools, then branches out to other areas, such as Baltimore and Frederick counties. Her efforts to foster equal access to education embody the principles that Schaefer, the late Baltimore City mayor, Maryland governor and comptroller, embraced.
“The first year we did it, we were able to fill 12 backpacks with all the school supplies those kids needed,” LeHew said. “We were able to help over 200 students, so we’ve definitely grown a lot and last year, we were also able to provide craft kids and small science projects to over 100 kids around the holidays just as something extra that they could open and enjoy.”
Franchot has annually traveled to each of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions to honor an individual or organization serving their community. This year, all Schaefer Award presentations are being held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Franchot honored LeHew on July 16.
“I know there are young people out there like Julia working to make our communities stronger,” Franchot said during the virtual presentation. “That reassures me that Maryland’s future is in good hands.”
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, LeHew has made significant changes to the way she runs her nonprofit. Earlier this year, she launched an online store for Pass Love Around with her parents’ help. They have received many orders for products through the online store, and have started making masks as well.
Prior to the pandemic, LeHew had a booth for Pass Love Around at the Sykesville Farmer’s Market during the summer. She also would participate in different events around the county.
The pandemic has affected how many students LeHew will be able to help this year, but she said her goal is to eventually help every Title 1 school receive supplies.
“There’s a lot of schools,” LeHew said. “I would like to be able to relieve that stress from their parents and keep those kids’ parents from having to worry about the schools trying to find the funding for it and everything.