Room to Grow was founded in 1998 by Julie Burns. That fall, Julie opened Room to Grow as its sole staff person in a 500-square foot storefront space in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Room to Grow would be a place, utterly unique in concept, committed to supporting the fundamental needs of babies born into poverty during their first three years.
Since our founding, Room to Grow has grown significantly. Today, Room to Grow has two sites, one in New York and one in Boston. In 2001, the New York site moved from East Harlem to a 2,200 square-foot space in the Flatiron district, where we serve nearly 400 children and their families who make over 1,000 visits each year. The Boston site opened in 2004. Occupying a 6,900 square-foot space in the Back Bay neighborhood, Boston also serves nearly 400 children and their families who make 1,000 visits to Room to Grow each year.
At some time or another, many of us come to the realization that the world is profoundly divided, always highlighting the differences among people, driving a wedge between us all, forcing us to retreat to the apparent safety of our small circle of family, friends, and associates. We see these divisions everywhere — rich-poor, male-female, young-old-and wonder how to escape the symbolic poverty these stances suggest.
We yearn for a sustaining vision that reconciles these contradictions; a vision that sees both sides of things in a unified whole. But few of us go beyond the wishing and the hoping state. Few of us risk what is required to do the hard work: to see the similarities in each other, and to build the structures necessary to heal the damage done in lasting ways.
Our own sense of survival forces us to spend most of our waking hours looking out for ourselves. And as we do, something is lost in us and in those without resources of any kind to protect and heal themselves. It is axiomatic that our children are often the ones most at risk and we salute anyone who, in the trajectory of their own lives, takes time out to help them.
At Room to Grow, we have tried to take the risk, to devote the energy, and to overcome the voices that whisper to each of us to just let nature take its course — dedicating ourselves to trying to meet the needs of children in poverty, those least able to help themselves. We have done so out of a profound sense that these babies deserve what we wish for our own children, that we as a society are enriched, in the best sense of that word, when we help to lift the most helpless around us; that in shared sacrifice, we make ourselves, all of us, better, healthier, with a brighter future.
We see Room to Grow as a ray of light and hope, a living organism committed to ending the darkness those children born into poverty often experience. Come and visit us and see Room to Grow; not just the brightly colored shelves filled with the clothes, books, toys and other material things necessary for a healthy start in life, but the residue of hope for the future that Room to Grow also represents. And it seems that this hope is not only for the children we care for, but for all of us who benefit in the face and fact of our collective selflessness and dedication.
Won’t you help us? It doesn’t take that much time, that much energy, that many resources. But it will help Room to Grow grow. In that way we can multiply the good we endeavor to create each day with our clients and continue to provide the care and love not only they, but we all require.
Julie Burns, CSW
Julie Burns founded Room to Grow in 1998. Prior to that, Julie worked as a psychotherapist in the child and adolescent division of the Karen Horney Clinic in New York. It was at Karen Horney where she developed the concept for Room to Grow, recognizing the profound need to help soon-to-be parents living in poverty, and provide them with the direct support and resources for their children from the very beginning.
Julie received her master's degree in social work from New York University and graduated with a BA in art history from the University of Michigan. Before embarking on a career in social work, Julie worked in the Old Master Painting department at Christie's, the auction house, in New York.
Julie divides her time between New York City and Walpole, NH with her husband Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker, and their two daughters.