Julianna Johnson receives the Bruce R. James ’64 Distinguished Public Service award March 23 during a ceremony on the RIT campus. One of the accomplishments for which she is being honored is that Johnson, along with her friend and fellow graphic design major Brandon Kelloway, created KEEP Rochester. KEEP Rochester is an organization that collects clothing, toiletries, diapers and housewares for Rochester-area women’s and men’s shelters.
KEEP Rochester began as an assignment for Johnson and Kelloway in their Concept and Symbolism class in fall quarter, taught by Lorrie Frear. Now KEEP Rochester is an official RIT student club.
“The Concept and Symbolism course focuses on methods and strategies to improve concept generation, and one project was to start with the letter K and develop some sort of interactive experience or project,” says Frear, RIT graphic design professor. “Julianna and Brandon came up with the word KEEP and used that as the springboard for their KEEP Rochester organization to address the needs of people who are homeless, drug addicts and victims of domestic violence.”
It’s not unusual to see Johnson and Kelloway on campus carrying around bags filled with clothes or boxes of diapers as they try to squeeze in pick-ups of donated items between their classes. Each quarter, they’ve run a clothing and toiletries drive, with the help of the sorority Zeta Tau Alpha, whose members have manned the tables.
“The RIT students, faculty and staff have blown me away with their generosity,” says Johnson.
Drop-boxes for donations are set up outside the Community Service Office on the first floor of RIT’s Campus Center and across from the SAU cafeteria inside the Writing Center, under the stairs. If the donations are too large for the boxes, people can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and schedule a time for pick-up. KEEP Rochester also accepts monetary donations to use toward purchasing diapers and baby formula for those shelters with infants and small children. Monetary donations can be made at the club office located in RIT’s Campus Center. RIT President Bill Destler will match the funds if those donating fill out a matching form at the time of the donation.
Johnson and Kelloway personally take all the donated items to local shelters like Bethany House, Women’s Place and Dimitri House.
“It’s a job in itself,” says Kelloway, a native of Townsend, Mass. “It’s been great. We are just so passionate about the work and so proud because we started this organization. The most rewarding aspect for me is the reaction we get from RIT students who we take along to the shelters. The students light up when they see how the people at the shelters react to our generosity. The response we get from those we are helping really motivates us.”
For Johnson, this outreach work is personal. Johnson was addicted to crystal methamphetamine and living on the streets of Los Angeles before ending up in jail. She marked six years of sobriety last month.
“I know where these women are in their life because I was there once too,” Johnson says. “Bethany House takes in women right out of jail. Many of the women are addicts. Bethany House offers them a safe place to live. When I got out of jail, I had nothing. Not even a toothbrush. So Bethany House has a special place in my heart.”
Along with Kelloway, Johnson’s family, friends and professors will be among those in the audience when she receives the Bruce R. James Award. As part of the award, Johnson receives $1,000. She will donate it all, giving $500 to Bethany House and $500 to Women’s Place.
Adds Frear: “I knew that because of Julianna and Brandon’s energy and enthusiasm that KEEP Rochester would be a success. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
With most of the current KEEP Rochester student members like Johnson and Kelloway graduating in May, the club is looking to recruit new members. For students interested in learning more about the club, e-mail email@example.com.