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Catching up with Julia Mogus, the first recipient of Meridian’s Sean Jackson Scholarship


In 2015, Julia Mogus became the inaugural recipient of Meridian’s Commitment to Communities Sean Jackson Scholarship for her impressive work in fostering youth literacy through Books with No Bounds, a charity she co-funded to help bring the gift of reading and education to disadvantaged children around the world.  Meridian recently caught up with Julia to learn about her post-secondary school plans and how Books with No Bounds continues to ignite the love of reading for children around the world. 

You have an amazing story of determination to make a difference and using creativity to drive change.  For those who may not be familiar with your background, can you share a bit about your story and how your commitment to community evolved?

Our love of reading was instilled is us by our parents, and we grew up without cable TV so reading became something that was second nature to us. Book with No Bounds started from an idea my sister and I had while shopping for second hand books at garage sales- we decide to collect books for those in need.

In 2011 we read an article about a book drive being hosted by Honourable James Bartleman for indigenous communities, in particular the Nishnawbe Aski NationThis Nation lives in remote areas of northern Ontario- they are very isolated and lack educational resources and literacy tools, and literacy programs for this community had recently ended.

This helped us understand that there was a need that was not being addressed, and how we decided to focus our work on collecting books for Indigenous communities in Canada. In the summer of 2012 we launched Books with No Bounds through an article in the National Post, asking for help (both books and financial support). We reached out to many people and organizations for help.

That summer we collected close to 6,000 of books, and shipped them to Nishnawbe Aski Nation. Every couple months we started sending shipments to various communities in need. We have expanded into other areas like numeracy skills, school supplies, e-book readers. We are hoping to continue to expand into other educational needs and resources, as the need for these supplies is so great. 

We have been lucky to be able to visit these communities and seen firsthand the impact these resources were making- it helped us to put a face to our work.

You and your sister built Books with No Bounds from the ground up using a strong commitment and innovative outlook- where do you think you got your entrepreneurial spirit from?

We were driven by the facts and scale of the issue itself. When we read about the extent of the need, and realized how impoverished some of these communities were, we were shocked. Some of these kids would grow up only ever owning one book their entire life. This touched us very deeply. It seemed like many other organizations weren't dealing with this large need and the book drive and other literacy programs for this community were coming to an end, so we saw an opportunity to ensure this issue was being addressed.
 
We didn't plan on it being a formal organization at first, but when we saw how much support we had, we realized Books with No Bounds could provide that necessary middle ground work of providing services and support at a youth to youth level, which is very important and not very common.

You have really grown Books with No Bounds into a remarkable and inspiring organization that has a lasting impact around the world. What was your goal when you started Books with No Bounds, and what is your goal for the organization today? 

Right now I hope to continue to expand on the reach of our programming. As we have grown and become closer with the communities we are servicing, we have been receiving letters from educators, families, politicians and the youth themselves. There is a growing need to provide other resources and address other issues like numeracy skills. 

We are focusing on building library programs right now. We just built a library with a women's shelter in Fort Albany. Many of these communities have no public libraries, so they literally have nowhere to access books. These communities just don't have equitable services and we found this very upsetting. 

Books with No Bounds is interested in expanding our work internationally as well- we have done shipments to Uganda, Pakistan and some communities in the US, among others. 

You were chosen the 2015 winner of the Meridian’s Commitment to Communities Sean Jackson scholarship from among a very competitive field of candidates – what impact has the scholarship had on you and your studies? 

The scholarship was very influential on my first year experience particularly. I got accepted into the International Relations Program at Trinity College at U of T. The program is amazing and really immersive and I am also commuting to school from home which takes up a lot of time. The scholarship allowed me to focus my energy on my studies completely, and not worry about where or how I was going to be able to afford everything. This support has also ensured I have time to continue to work on Books with No Bounds. Meridian has been there to help me throughout my university career. 

Millennials tend to get a bad rap these days- in particular that young people are apathetic, but you are a clear example of a young person that is passionate about making the world a better place. Why do you think some people have that perception? What do you think acts as a barrier to young people getting involved in their community?

I think our generation has become known for our social media use and are perceived as self-interested. People think we aren’t empathetic. Media portrays young people as being materialistic, but if you look beyond the simple focus on social media, you can see that there are many young people who are trying to improve the world.

Social media and the internet has allowed us to become aware of issues and events that would have never been discussed previously, or other generations wouldn’t have been exposed to.  Our knowledge of the world has expanded and social media makes it easy for people to get involved and participate, and learn about how they can take action on issues.

Social media also allows us to make our voices heard, and is an amazing platform to share our stories.

I think these perceptions can be discouraging to other young people and prevent them from getting involved- it may help reinforce the idea that they are too young, or don’t know enough to make a difference.  My sister, Emma and I experienced this- at first a lot of people didn’t even want to talk to us because we were “too young”.

Beyond Books with No Bounds, what would you like your legacy to be? What would you like to achieve in your lifetime?

I want youth to know that there are no bounds to what you can do or be in your life. I want to inspire other youth to read more, take action, and have hope!

I also want to be known as a promoter of equality and human rights. I hope we can fix so many of the issues that affect indigenous youth, and those who are disadvantaged. 

Meridian is now accepting applications for Meridian's Commitment to Communities Sean Jackson Scholarship. The scholarship is an annual $10,000 award designed to recognize an Ontario high school graduate who has demonstrated both academic excellence and an outstanding commitment to communities of their own, including community initiative, innovation and impact among Ontario youth. To learn more or to apply click here.

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