Spy of the Month

spy of the month

Agent Name: The Secret Gardener
Real Name: Julia Collins

Congratulations, Spy! How does it feel?
It's very exciting! I feel like I'm lucky to be part of the 826CHI community, so this is an unexpected honor.

How did you first get involved at 826CHI?
I visited the Pirate Store at 826Valencia in 2012 and thought it was really cool, but I didn't realize 826CHI even existed. In 2015, a friend asked me to help with planning Eat Your Words. I got to know and love 826CHI and the wonderful 826CHI community, and have helped with Eat Your Words ever since. I just started volunteering with students earlier this year, usually on field trips, and can't believe I didn't start sooner.

What has been your favorite 826 experience so far?
My favorite experience is when the students on the storytelling and bookmaking field trips find out that their books have been approved by Admiral Moody and that they're all now published authors. I have so much fun with the students who come for field trips. They're creative and thoughtful and funny, and each class has ideas I could never have imagined. I usually leave the storytelling field trips thinking that day's story could be the next big children's bestseller.

What do you do when you aren't working undercover?
I run a non-profit website called Girls Like You and Me (girlslikeyouandme.com). I interview women about their jobs in all kinds of fields: what they do, why they like their work, what their life is like now, and what they were like growing up- my favorite part! I get to learn about all kinds of different people and careers, and share these stories with lots of people. I also like to garden, read, and talk about what I've been reading and should be reading all the time.

Oh! A Garden! What do you grow in yours?
I'm always very eager for signs of spring, so I plant a lot of bulbs in the fall so I can have tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths as soon as it warms up. I like plants that take care of themselves, so I choose things that will grow and thrive year after year here in Chicago, like hostas, hydrangeas, peonies, and lilacs. My peony plants came from my grandmother's uncle, who bred them. The plants that grow best are always weeds, so I spend a lot of time pulling those out so my other plants can continue to thrive!

What was the most interesting person you interviewed for the website?
Well, I think everyone is pretty interesting, but three popped into my head. One is Emily Graslie, the Field Museum's Chief Curiosity Correspondent. She makes videos about all the cool things at the Field Museum, and basically created a job that didn't exist before. Two is Amy Chu, who writes comic books like Poison Ivy, KISS Comics, and Red Sonja. Before that, she started a magazine, was a management consultant, lived in Hong Kong, and went to Business School. Three is Janelle Bynum, a state representative in Oregon who decided to run for office after being turned down from her local school board, because she said, "I don’t think they were ready for my level of activism." She's also an engineer and owns four McDonald's franchises with her husband.

Our top agents always have the best codenames. What’s yours?
The Secret Gardener

Any words of wisdom for aspiring spies of the month?
Take advantage of the many ways to be involved with 826! Working with students is obviously the best part of 826, but getting to know the awesome volunteers, interns and staff is probably the second best. Because of the great company, I always have a lot of fun at supporting events like Scrabble for Cheaters and Eat Your Words.