Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Current Projects VII: A Cultural Exchange

As a writer, making money is clearly a major priority. At the same time, however, it's enriching for the soul and for the greater good to provide my services pro bono to worthy non-profits. I sort of adopted one such organization a dozen or more years ago, and it's one that remains close to my heart.

The organization is called A Cultural Exchange and it's located in Cleveland, Ohio. Though I live in Boston, my in-laws are from that area so I've gone there at least once or twice every year since my wife and I were dating (and we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary this past October).

So one day I was looking for something to do and my mother-in-law told me about a street/shopping district called Larchmere. The principal attraction was a used book store where I indeed had found a few treasures over the years before they closed some years ago. Walking down the street, however, I was struck by a window display that featured a number of children's books with multicultural themes and characters. Now, I can't remember if my 12-year-old was born yet or not, but I've always been interested in children's books so it's just as conceivable that I went in before I became a parent as it would be if I had Hannah in a stroller. Either way, I went in.

The store was A Cultural Exchange, and after browsing for a while, I struck up a conversation with the proprietress, Deborah McHamm. I soon learned that the store was actually a storefront, and ACE was in fact a non-profit organization devoted to increasing literacy and love for books among urban children in the Cleveland area. At the time, I was working at Boston public broadcaster WGBH, writing development materials. Once she learned I was involved in fundraising, she took an even keener interest in me. We talked further and I gave her my contact information, saying I'd be happy to write anything she need free of charge.

Over the years, I have done a number of projects for her, usually on an emergency basis. One time, she left such an urgent message on my home phone while we were in Disney World that I was compelled to call her right away, even though I was standing in the middle of Epcot. Her requests are rarely mundane. Once, she said to me, "I need you to get me in front of Oprah." I do my best for her but I'm realistic about what I can accomplish, especially from Boston.

Best of all, after all these years, we are now friends. Though I only get to see her on an annual basis, I think she knows I'm always there for her. She has watched my children grow and taken real joy and interest in our lives.

This link describes Deborah's background, the history of the organization, and the wonderful programs ACE undertakes, including the Read Baby Read book clubs. The most current program is called the Busy Bookmobile, which drives subsidized books costing a dollar or less into neighborhoods and schools where kids and families don't have much money for books - or for books with characters that look like them. In fact, the tagline on the bus below (Helping children find themselves in books) is one I developed for Deborah, the idea being that children will become excited by reading if they can have access to books with stories and characters that reflect their lives. They get lost in books and find themselves at the same time.

My latest project is to help raise money for the Bookmobile, and also to raise money to launch a pilot Read Baby Read book club in Boston. I greatly admire and respect Deborah and am honored to help A Cultural Exchange in any way I can.

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