Julia Sleeper-Whiting

Julia Sleeper-Whiting
Location: Lewiston, Maine Cohort Start Year: 2019 Project Topics: Education, Faith/Religion, Immigrants and Refugees, Leadership Development, Racial Justice, Social Sector/Non-Profit, Violence and Trauma Populations Served: Adolescents (12-20 years), African-American/Black, At-Risk/Vulnerable Populations, Children (6-11 years), Children and Families, Homeless Populations, Immigrants and Refugees, Incarcerated or Formerly Incarcerated Populations, Low-Income Communities
Executive Director
Tree Street Youth

Julia’s focus area is on youth development and education and the ways in which youth voice can lead change in communities. As the founder and director of Tree Street Youth in Lewiston, Maine, she has experienced firsthand the power that youth can play in developing programming, changing education systems, and challenging systems to create more equitable systems and think creatively about solving problems in our world. With her home state facing an aging demographic and a workforce crisis, the city of Lewiston has gone against these trends due to a large influx of immigrant and refugee families into the area. Inspired by the passion and motivation of youth in the community, Julia’s goal is to continue to build pathways for youth voice to have greater influence across the state of Maine and to improve the ways in which schools empower and arm youth with the skills necessary to solve today’s societal challenges while following their personal passions and pathways of purpose.

STRATEGIC INITIATIVE: Expanding the Tree Street Next STEP Model Throughout the Lewiston (Maine) Public School District
My initiative aims to support the youth of Lewiston, Maine, by addressing the educational inequities facing low-income youth of color in the Lewiston public school district. The schools, both presently and historically, have significant disparities in student outcomes grounded in both race and class. As immigrant/refugee families have moved into Lewiston, demographics have shifted significantly, and issues of both overt and systemic racism are extreme and prevalent, both inside and outside of schools, contributing significantly to disparities. Tree Street has become a thought partner and conduit to the most vulnerable youth to lead change within the district and push toward equitable experiences for all. These initiatives have created multiple co-created pilots that demonstrate effective strategies related to restorative behavioral responses, diversified/relevant curriculum, unique teacher support, and a student-voice-led high school program (Next STEP). My strategic initiative will focus on supporting district leadership to expand on these learnings to the broader district through formalizing partnerships between community-based organizations and schools, implementing collaborative leadership/equity education across the district and expanding the Next STEP model for middle schoolers.

As the founder and director of Tree Street Youth, Julia has had a unique leadership experience growing an organization from a small grassroots, all-volunteer staff to a full service youth center having statewide influence. The growth of the center, which has been largely drawn from youth voices and inspired by community needs, is inspired to encourage others to follow this lead while learning from passionate and motivated peers from across the country.

Click here to watch Julia’s Legacy Project video.