Room to Grow

year 2, week 31:  this week i'm gonna... break the cycle of poverty

Julie Burns, Founder of Room to Grow

Julie Burns, Founder of Room to Grow

Julie Burns was working as a therapist in the child and adolescent division of the Karen Horney Clinic in New York when she sensed she could do more to help troubled families. “I wanted to reach families before the problems emerged,” she explains.

Julie could see that the behavioral, emotional, and cognitive issues she was treating had their roots far earlier in life. She wondered what was out there to help new mothers, especially those facing the myriad of obstacles that accompany poverty. It was 1996, and she was surprised to find few social services available for low-income families with children 0 to 3 years old, a critical age range that researchers say is key to a child’s later development.

A seed was planted and an entrepreneurial side she hadn’t known she possessed began to emerge. “I saw that I could really fill a niche,” she recalls. “It seemed like a perfect opportunity to provide material items and all of the parenting support as well."

Julie set to work. In 1998, she opened Room to Grow, an organization providing early support to families of babies born into poverty. Within a year she was serving 100 clients by herself in a donated East Harlem storefront space. Today, Room to Grow works with over 700 families at its locations in New York and Boston. Many are single mothers and all live at or below the poverty line.

Room to Grow's unique model combines counseling and material goods to foster both child development and parenting skills. The material goods serve as prompts for the long-term guidance.

“We’re not just providing books,” Julie explains, “we’re teaching parents how to sit down and read with their children. We’re not only providing bottles, but teaching about healthy nutrition, and talking about what it means to sit down with your child at mealtime and make that a positive experience.”

Story sourced from, "Room to Grow", by Sandra Larson


Room to Grow is dedicated to enriching the lives of babies born into poverty throughout their critical first three years of development. Parents are referred to Room to Grow by a network of prenatal programs assisting low-income families. Upon their referral, families visit Room to Grow's warm and inviting space once every three months from just before the birth of the baby until their child turns three. During their one-on-one appointments with Room to Grow staff social workers (typically lasting two hours), parents receive developmental information, customized support, and all of the needed baby items to ensure a healthy and secure start for their child. 

Room to Grow's clinical philosophy is to serve families with dignity and respect. Their Family Center is designed like a boutique and is integral to their efforts of providing a warm, welcoming, and dignified experience. 

To learn more about Room to Grow, please watch the video below:


Juliana is one of the many parents supported by Room to Grow. She grew up in poverty in Puerto Rico and had an emotionally and physically abusive childhood. Wanting a better life, Julianna moved with her boyfriend to Boston. When she became pregnant, she and her boyfriend were scared and had no family to lean on. 

Determined to give her baby a better childhood, Julianna was grateful to be connected with Room to Grow. During her visits, she received all the material goods she needed to keep her son, Jorge, safe and healthy, including a car seat, pack and play, clothes, toys, and books.

At 18 months, Julianna’s social worker, Rebecca, observed that Jorge’s speech was developmentally behind. Rebecca referred Jorge to Early Intervention, through which he started seeing a speech therapist weekly. Julianna absorbed the information she received from Rebecca about the importance of language development, reading to Jorge daily. Now, at 24 months, Jorge is beginning to speak.

“The depth of support Room to Grow gives to each family is truly exceptional," states a Room to Grow social worker. "Our two-hour sessions allow us to take our time and work through topics, and having a three-year relationship with the parents enables us to become a team, working together to create the best possible environment for the child.”

Notes for this week:

  • Did you know that according to the Center for Disease Control, the most common birth month in the United States is August? Over 358,000 American babies were born in August 2016!
  • Our collective givetwig donation will sponsoran introductory visit for a mother in their third trimester of pregnancy, postpartum assistance, and a year’s worth of books for a family.
  • For more information regarding Room to Grow, please check out their website.

this week i'm gonna donate to Room to Grow.

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