Julia Johnson

Excellence in Volunteerism Award Winner

OC Community Resources
OC Public Libraries
Sunshine Readers

Sunshine Readers volunteers pictured from left to right - Jordan Davis, Brooke Davis,
Honoree Julia Johnson, Lily Bellinghausen, Joanna Pisano & Meg LaRocca.

Excellence in Volunteerism

ACTION:  What does the volunteer do?

Julia Johnson was inspired to bring literature alive for children and parents after attending a presentation by reading expert Jim Trelease.  In 1994, she transitioned that inspiration into action by partnering with her daughter, Candace, to create the Sunshine Readers program, which provides PJ Storytime – an evening literacy program – for families at five OC Public Libraries branches.  PJ Storytimes are delivered via a reading/performing group of girls between the ages of 12 - 17 who are members of the National Charity League, a distinctive and well-respected mother-daughter membership organization that promotes community service.  In addition to the evening storytimes, Julia and the Sunshine Readers offer daytime literary programs at various library branches in South Orange County during the summer months. 

Over the years, Julia has volunteered thousands of hours in training and providing leadership to the tweens and teens who serve as Sunshine Readers.  The girls offer library patrons a delightful and engaging storytime program that combines active participation with an instructional narrative.

NEED:  What community need does the volunteer address?

Through Julia’s volunteer efforts, two vital community needs – early childhood literacy and youth development – are addressed.  Providing early childhood literacy options for families is the primary focus of Sunshine Readers.  Working parents often experience time constraints that may prevent them from bringing their children to morning storytimes offered by branch librarians.  PJ Storytimes provide the flexibility of an evening program that enhances OC Public Libraries’ ability to promote reading and literature for families with young children.

During PJ Storytimes, children in the audience are completely captivated by Julia and the Sunshine Readers as they "perform" stories rather than just read them.  As the Sunshine Readers bring characters to life, the audience is transported to an enchanted land or taken on an amazing adventure while interacting with the readers/performers.

The second community need that is addressed through Julia’s volunteer involvement is youth development.  This accomplishment becomes apparent as one looks more closely at the positive impact that the program has upon the tween and teen readers/performers.  The girls have diligently practiced and carefully fine-tuned their craft.  They are not content until they engage every pajama-clad child in an experience that’s sure to strengthen their literacy skills.  Through their volunteer endeavors, the Sunshine Readers develop leadership and communication skills, a sense of service to others, and a commitment to community – qualities that will remain with them throughout their lives. 

Excellence in VolunteerismIMPACT:  What is different as a result of the volunteer's service?

Julia has positively impacted thousands of children over the years through her traveling literacy program.  The value of her volunteer endeavors within the local community and even into the larger society is immeasurable when considering the number of children who have embraced a love of reading and literature through their participation in the PJ Storytimes and summer literary programs.

Julia mentors and positively influences young women between 12 – 17 years of age, helping them on their path to becoming caring, responsible and productive adults.  Through Julia's instruction and encouragement, tweens and teens are provided a platform to develop public-speaking skills and the art of storytelling, increase self-confidence and experience the intrinsic rewards of volunteerism and community involvement.

Pictured from left to right – Jane  Deeley, Aliso Viejo Regional Library Manager; Susan Pina, Dana Point Library Senior Branch Manager; Cynthia Corderman, South Regional Manager; Julia Johnson, Excellence in Volunteerism Award Winner; Ericka Reeb, Dana Point Library Children's Librarian; Jon Gilliom, Laguna Beach Library Manager & Marie Twombly, Aliso Viejo Library Children's Librarian. 

INSPIRATION:  What makes the volunteer unique/special?

Julia is a trained actor and Screen Actors Guild member who applies her craft to reading – thus changing reading into a performance!  Young listeners attending library storytimes performed by the Sunshine Readers are enchanted as each story unfolds to reveal a unique adventure. 

Julia's volunteer service directly aligns with OC Public Libraries’ values of engendering a love of reading and learning and empowering people to make a difference in their lives.  Her long-standing volunteer involvement supports the vision of OC Community Resources to “Positively Transform Lives in Orange County” and the mission of OC Public Libraries to "Empower & Enrich Our Communities.”


Since 1994, Julia has offered fall and summer training each year to approximately 100 National Charity League girls in the art of storytelling and public speaking.  In her words, “It has been an honor to do this!  It would be difficult to calculate how many hours I have devoted after 20 years. I would say thousands – and happily!"

Thank you and congratulations to Julia Johnson, recipient of the 2014 Excellence in Volunteerism Award!

Click here to find out how you can volunteer with the OC Public Libraries!