Julie Ann Fooshee walks her assistance dog across Bristo Square

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A build-up of little acts, giving back to others

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More than 2,000 Edinburgh care home residents receive cards at Christmas from Julie Ann Fooshee’s community wellbeing project. Her aspirations, to reach out to the city’s isolated and vulnerable individuals, go further.

Through its annual Student Awards, Edinburgh University Students’ Association celebrates the passionate members of our community who go above and beyond.

Awards honour the outstanding achievements, hard work, dedication, and leadership shown by our student body. They celebrate the passionate individuals and groups who dedicate their time to a cause, stand up for others, foster supportive student communities, overcome personal challenges, and much more.

No achievement is too big or too small to be celebrated. It’s sometimes the smallest acts of inclusion, creativity, and determination that make the biggest difference to others. In this series of profiles, we find out more about some of the individual winners and explore the extraordinary impact for which they have been recognised.

Julie Ann Fooshee pictured with her assistance dog in Bristo Square.
Julie Ann Fooshee

Julie Ann Fooshee won the Outstanding Contribution to Community Wellbeing award for the Cards for Care Homes project, which she started in 2020.

As an international student, Julie Ann was feeling the separation and isolation of Government lockdowns during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Her thoughts soon turned to how that must be affecting vulnerable people in the local community.

“I had seen a news article that talked about how some of our most vulnerable residents in the community were unable to visit or have family visit them because of the travel restrictions and potential exposure to the virus,” Julie Ann explains.

“As sad as many of us international students were not to travel, it must have felt really devastating for already isolated, elderly folks to experience this. We thought it was a small gesture to get cards to a few of our closest care homes but worth doing to bring some much-needed levity to a hard year.”

That first Christmas, with support from fellow members of the students’ Equestrian Club, Julie Ann organised for around 150 cards to be delivered sending season’s greetings to residents in local care homes. “We made a little dent in the holiday that year,” Julie Ann says, “and we thought… okay we should do it again!”

Illness prevented Julie Ann from repeating the project in 2021 but since then, Cards for Care Homes has gone from strength to strength.

“I decided in 2022 that I was going to come back and make it bigger. With help from the Equestrian Club, we decided we could get to every council-run care home in Edinburgh. At the time, that was around 500 residents but with a big push we did it!

“We knew there was an even bigger need in the community and loads more care homes to reach. In 2023, we decided we would try to get to 2,000 residents and see how many care homes that would reach across the city. It was 53 homes, and 2,102 cards, but the impact was far larger than we dreamed. We got to actually meet residents face-to-face, which brought me to tears. I’ve never seen so many smiling faces, so many staff opening doors going ‘IT’S YOU!’ It was so moving and so wonderful to do.”

Julie Ann Fooshee pictured in Potterrow Dome with her assistance dog.
Julie Ann Fooshee

Giving back

Julie Ann’s family history inspired the creation of her award-winning project: “As someone who grew up with my grandparents as a central part of my life, I feel passionate about intergenerational engagement. My grandfather was a gerontologist and he spoke a lot at conferences in my youth about how to stay young as you age by remaining engaged with those around you and your community and by always learning.

“I did a lot of volunteer work with both sets of grandparents as a kid and it really made a huge impact on me. Giving back to others isn’t just in large show-stopping moments, it’s often a build-up of little acts that we complete over time.

“Cards for Care Homes is a representation of that. They may seem small when you’re filling out just one or two with us at a card signing day, but when we work together, and build capacity as a University team, we deliver something so massive back to Edinburgh that it turns into something show-stopping.

“Paper cards are a bit of a dying art form but it’s something that I always cherished from my gran every year and it’s a tangible reminder for the people that receive them that someone is there for them.”

Public engagement

Julie Ann is studying a PhD in Science Communication at the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, she has lived and worked all over the United States. After graduating with a history degree from the University of Georgia, she worked in science communication and public engagement, including at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and NASA’s Johnson Space Centre.

“I love communicating science to others, getting people excited about science and understanding science, no matter their age, their background, or their interests,” she said.

“After University, I would like to continue to work in the UK or EU teaching best practice in science communication, researching with organisations and institutions to make sure they’re engaging meaningfully with their audiences.”

Julie Ann Fooshee with her assistance dog, pictured in Potterrow Dome.
Julie Ann Fooshee

While she continues her studies, Julie Ann says she has no intention of letting momentum on the Cards for Care Homes project slip: “In future, I hope we reach even more people with the project; that we collaborate with other universities across Scotland to help maximise impact and bring the project to people not just in Edinburgh.

“I would also love to see cards going out to places other than care homes, like to veterans, refugees, and people struggling with homelessness. I know it doesn’t solve a global crisis, and it may be small, but every year I hope it brings a little local joy to people who need a smile and a reminder that they are remembered.”

Collective success

Reflecting on the award, Julie Ann is quick to praise the team effort that has helped Cards for Care Homes make such an impact: “To be nominated was a true shock. I doubted I would be shortlisted, knowing how many incredible projects there are at the University, so to go on and win was unthinkable to me. I felt like I was getting a lifetime achievement award! Everyone in that category was doing the most incredible work and I was humbled to be included.

“I know it’s my name on the award, but none of this project would be complete without the Equestrian Club. It has supported the project for years, been the backing on the project, and been the home for it.

“To the Sports and Exercise team, who really helped us boost it this year, to the Sports Union who helped get the word out to attend signing days, and to all the students who came in during their finals and spent time signing cards, eating candy, and chatting together… Truly, this award goes to all of us, and I’m so inspired by their dedication, love, and support for this project. I won in name only, we won collectively.”

A group of individual and student society winners on stage with their awards at the Student Awards 2024.
Edinburgh University Students’ Association Student Awards 2024 winners
gold and black stars

Image credits: All Sam Sills/WhiteDog Photography; except Student Awards winners group shot – Edinburgh University Students’ Association.