Our Town

People and places that define Orlando

Page Turner

Julia Young’s mission to help children read, write and succeed is a story without end. By Barry Glenn

Julia Young has this thing for The Count of Monte Cristo.

“I read it when I was 11 or 12 years old,’’ she says. “And I think it changed my entire world—the way I thought about books. It’s so ridiculously overwrought. There’s revenge and romance and swordfights and fainting!’’

But the Alexandre Dumas classic wasn’t the only work that influenced Young, 31, an Orlando native. She read everything from Archie comics to Nancy Drew adventures. She read with abandon and still does. She dreamed of one day helping children become voracious readers, prolific writers and confident achievers. And she’s done that too.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon at Orlando’s Downtown Recreation Center, just before one of four free tutoring sessions that Young runs each week as part of a program she founded called Page 15. Volunteer tutors, many of them college students, will arrive soon. The kids will follow, most of them from low-income areas near the rec center, seeking help with various homework assignments. Meanwhile, a few blocks away at Howard Middle School, students are working on the next issue of Howard Hype, the online newspaper that Young’s group helped create. And before you know it, Page 15’s  summer writing workshops for kids will be starting once again.

Young is recounting how her nonprofit came to be, how being laid off from her marketing job two and a half years ago created the opportunity, how former Urban Think bookstore owner Bruce Harris and others pitched in with support, how she named the program in honor of her grandmother, who said nobody should quit on a book before reading to at least page 15. She also talks about working with the children, about the pressure they feel as students.

“Sometimes they get so stuck,” she says. “They can’t go any further because they don’t want to make a mistake. So we’re really just trying to break loose of that and saying to them, ‘I don’t care if you get every one of these questions wrong on this sheet or if you spell every single one of these words wrong in your story. We’ll go back and we’ll figure it out together. We’ll be here with you.’’’

The students stream into the homework room—including a rather glum high-schooler who needs help on a reading comprehension assignment. “What’s up?’’ Young says brightly, then summons a volunteer to help him.

At a nearby table sits Bill, a 10-year-old boy from Vietnam who Young says has “blown us away’’ with his progress in reading in the last year. He is writing a book report on Charlotte’s Web and tells his tutor confidently that the plot “is about helping friends.’’

He’s right, of course. Bill has most likely run across a quote uttered by the heroine spider Charlotte near the end of the book—a passage that seems quite fitting in this busy room, where youngsters are getting the help they need, all because one day, a couple of years ago, Julia Young decided to follow her heart:

 You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.


License to Chill

Chillounge Night just might have redefined O-town’s definition of cool. By Barry Glenn

It’s the Saturday before Easter, and I am watching a group of Nicaraguan-cigar-puffing, Margarita-drinking penguins set up a few dozen daybeds in a corner of Lake Eola Park.

Yes, my brain apparently has melted down in giddy anticipation of Chillounge Night, the South-Beach-comes-to-Orlando outdoor party. But there’s just a lot of black and white to process in the Chill compound—white tents and flags, tables covered with black cloths, illuminated white fabric pillars, food servers clad in black, chefs dressed in white.

Okay, so maybe the tuxedoed fowl are an apparition. But what’s for real is the endless stream of mostly 20-to 40-somethings—cool cats, all—who will enter the gates of Chill over the next few hours, eager to pay $20 apiece for the chance to drink booze, schmooze, eat paella and sliders, listen to music, watch fireworks and a fashion show, and smoke those Nicaraguan cigars. All this amid a collection of—you guessed it—daybeds and padded wicker seats, where early arrivals will park themselves for the night.

How has this mushroomed into such a must-be-seen-there event?

 “OhmyGod. All my friends were talking about it online, and it was like you gotta go and I’m like OhmyGod!’’ one miniskirted attendee tells a TV interviewer.

Another Chillgoer, Laura Hilton, puts it a bit more succinctly: Word of mouth spread quickly on Facebook and through a flurry of e-mails that basically said, Meet me here. Hilton, 41, heard from about 300 Facebook friends who planned to show up.

“They need to make this around the entire lake next time!’’ the Orlando resident says.

They may have to. Southwest Floridian Rainer Scheer has staged these rather hedonistic gatherings from Tampa to Sarasota to Delray Beach for several years (this is Orlando’s first), and a charity always ends up as a beneficiary (Make-a-Wish Foundation for the Eola event). But on this night, Orlando will set the record for Chillounge Night attendance, packing in 3,600 revelers.

Like OhmyGod, you gotta go next time.


Mall Dogs

Lately, I’ve been noticing dogs in The Mall at Millenia, where Orlando’s beautiful people shop when they’re not conspicuously consuming elsewhere. I’ve seen a Paris Hilton wannabe flaunting a purse pooch and well-to-do older women pushing ankle nippers in strollers. Take that, Park Avenue!

But the Great Dane really got my attention.

As the breed suggests, it was big, more so than the young teen-age girl connected to it by a string. I was in Bloomingdale’s with my daughters when the lumbering canine came our way. We hugged a jewelry counter and let them pass.

“Is the mall going to the dogs?” I wondered.

They’re welcome as service dogs everywhere inside, says Brenda Lounsberry, mall marketing director. But just your average status pooch isn’t allowed on four feet in mall common areas. It must be in a carrier or a covered stroller, Lounsberry adds. (Next time I see a lap dog in an open stroller I’m alerting security.)

Individual retailers, however, can set their own pet protocols, and Bloomie’s does allow dogs on leashes. “We are pet friendly,” says Rhonda Lantz-Teichert, the store’s general manager. Neiman Marcus, Millenia’s other high-end department store, follows the mall’s policy.  

I’m pet friendly, too, so restrained dogs in the mall don’t bother me. But toddlers wailing uncontrollably in the food court or inside the restaurants.…Don’t get me started.

—Mike Boslet

Categories: Community