Donor Profile: One Step Forward Education Foundation’s Julia Casady
By Kate Stringer
pK-12 Action Group donor Julia Casady knows firsthand that in the United States and elsewhere, getting a quality education can be a struggle. As a child, she had to rely on the few public resources her rural community could provide in order to feed her natural curiosity. The local Carnegie library became an oasis, providing sustenance and refreshment to her active young mind. As a freshly-laureled elementary school educator working in 1980s Evanston, Illinois, she gained an even more nuanced perspective of income and class inequality in K-12 education. In a recent conversation with Lana Cook, Leadership Giving Officer at MIT Open Learning, Julia described the stark differences between the school she once taught in and the facilities in an affluent neighboring district, “You would travel a few blocks to another school, and those kids had everything. There was such disparity.”
As her career progressed through different roles and responsibilities in and around education—as a substitute teacher, trustee of school, head of a parent committee, and school fundraiser—Julia strengthened her resolve to level the playing field for students like herself and the children she’d taught. Later on, when considering the focus of her philanthropic mission, she also drew on her experience as a mother of four children, all of whom had their own particular set of educational needs and abilities. Julia notes, “We were fortunate to have the resources to find the support that they each individually needed, between public and private education. But we also saw the kids who lacked these resources, and sought to find ways to support kids from pre-school through college.”
The result of Julia’s passion for knowledge and commitment to educational equity is the One Step Forward Education Foundation, run by Julia and Mark Casady with the goal of levelling the playing field for children from less advantaged backgrounds. One Step Forward believes in multi-year relationships with funding partners, which ensures consistent financial security for projects in their early and developing stages. The foundation aspires to “[support] the development of innovative educational programs around the world,” a goal that makes it a natural fit for pK-12 Action Group and the MIT global community. One Step Forward knows that educational reform won’t happen without sustained effort on the part of stakeholders, and that lasting changes often require patience, tough choices and a willingness to experiment. Julia remarks, “MIT gets it and is not afraid to ask the hard questions. It’s not just a cause; it’s a passion. We at the [One Step Forward Education Foundation] are about reaching people at a much bigger scale.”
When asked what she would say to those looking to make a difference through personal philanthropy, Julia’s advice is simple: start with your passions. For those who want to make a difference but may not be able to make substantial monetary contributions, she stresses the importance of finding your individual comfort level and considering other ways to give back: “People are often afraid that they can’t give enough. Give your time to schools and organizations; start a new program. As a young parent I helped establish an accredited nursery school co-operative with some other women in my area; we had no money so I learned to write grants, I learned how to be focused. It’s about finding the people who care and about connecting schools to these different programs.”
Taking care of those closest to home is a key element of One Step Forward’s mission. Though the foundation’s philanthropic aspirations are international, it has not forgotten the importance of supporting the local community. One example is the foundation’s partnership with the Paul Revere House, enabling staff from the historic organization to provide educational experiences to public school students in under-resourced communities from Boston to Lynn who may not have the resources to arrange and fund field trips. It’s an example of what Julia thinks of as a parallel trend to the increasingly internet-fueled educational landscape. While acknowledging the power of the online resources to expand horizons and offer open access to learning opportunities, Julia notes that parents and families are also seeking the power of personal connections: “People have more resources at their fingertips than ever before. [But] people are also looking inward more, to their families and communities. I believe in strengthening those bonds.”
Learn more about One Step Forward Education Foundation at www.osffoundation.org.