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Racine woman committed to get kids reading for decades

Posted at 6:23 AM, Feb 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 10:22:28-05

RACINE, Wis. — Julia Witherspoon is 70 years young, but there is no sign of her slowing down.

For more than two decades she has been committed to getting books to kids, sharing her love for reading to help prepare them for success.

Julia grew up in Racine as the oldest of 12 kids.

"We were very, very poor, very poor and my parents could not afford books for us," Julia remembered.

She knew that she wasn't alone.

During her career as a Racine Police officer, Julia witnessed the struggles kids faced firsthand and badly wanted to help them. It was a burglary call at a warehouse that jumpstarted her mission.

"He hit the lights and there were all these children’s books everywhere," said Julia.

She knew it was a sign. Julia asked if she could take few books to hand out to kids on her beat.

The 10,000 books were slightly damaged and not in selling condition, but otherwise in good shape. Julia said the owner ended up giving her all 10,000 books. She led fellow officers in handing them out to kids from their squad cars.

"Kids would be yelling at me police stop! Do you have Babysitter's Club? Do you have Clifford," Julie remembered.

She said it got to a point where officers would use their radios to see who had certain books to give to kids.

Seeing the demand and with the community's generosity, Julia created the Cops 'N Kids Reading Center on Villa Street in Racine.

Since 1998, donated books continue to pour in and go out to families.

Julia and her team bring in tutors to help kids with reading and comprehension. Police officers and other community members often come in to read with them.

GeorgAnn Stinson has known Julia for years.

"She has made a huge difference. She has been a person that was able to just be a shining light for the children and able to be an example for women," said GeorgAnn.

Julia's efforts have gone beyond giving out free books, even improving police relations. She has been recognized and honored several times across the country. Chapters of Cops 'N Kids have spread across the world.

"Never ever did I imagine it would get to this magnitude ever," said Julia.

In the end, she hopes to be remembered for doing everything she could to help kids.

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