To celebrate this season of giving, PT asked publishers to nominate others in the industry who dedicate significant time and effort to “doing good.” We received an incredible response – so much so that we’ve limited this article to publishing individuals who “do good” at organizations unaffiliated with their day jobs. Below are some of the stories we heard. For those who wish to make a donation, we’ve listed information about each of the organizations mentioned.
“It was a life changing experience,” Seale Ballenger, Director of Publicity at Harper Entertainment said about his volunteer work at the Tumaini Children’s Home in Kenya this past June. The home, an orphanage for children newborn to five years old with HIV/AIDS, is situated just outside of Mombasa – one of the worst slum areas in the country. Founded in 1997 by Englishwoman Joan Smith (who was inspired to take action after hearing stories of parents abandoning HIV positive infants), Tumaini recently opened new sleeping and eating facilities and a hospice after seven years of preparation.
Although struggling with HIV/AIDS and myriad other health problems, Ballenger said that the kids were eager to learn and to share with the other kids and adults at the home. “The home is a remarkable place, a bright spot of hope in a fairly desolate community. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it or the children there.” Tumaini is looking to build a school over the next few years as well.
Also in Kenya, Bill Boedeker, Ex-VP of Marketing and Associate Publisher at Little Brown, recently spent a significant amount of time working in schools and orphanages. His experience – which he refers to as “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” – started a year ago when he traveled to South Africa where he visited two orphanages – one for healthy children and one for children with HIV/AIDS and other diseases. At the latter, he was moved when he saw a little boy of about four or five watching Mary Poppins – his favorite movie as a child. Shortly after returning to the states, Boedeker left Little Brown, and decided to return to Africa, happening upon a village south of Nairobi where he volunteered in orphanages and schools helping NGOs. “The country is beautiful, the kids are gorgeous and the poverty is grim,” he said. “You need someone like Bill Gates to move things forward on a macro scale. I mean, I’m just micro micro.” Boedeker is currently raising funds “…I can’t change Kenya, but I can help specific people.”
Back home, bookseller par-excellence Roxanne Coady began the Read to Grow Foundation (www.readtogrow.org) – which promotes literacy by raising money to buy books for children. All of Coady’s royalties from her book, The Book That Changed My Life, will go toward the org. The group’s initial funding came from author luncheons held at R.J. Julia (the very first one, where Peter Jennings spoke about his book, raised $35,000). Then a bank became a founding sponsor, and Read to Grow became a $1 million endeavor – complete with an office, staff, warehouse, van, and 100 volunteers.
Hyperion’s Bob Miller sits on the board of New York City Outward Bound, the first independent urban outward bound center (celebrating its 20th year). The program is currently a full partner in five schools around the city – situated in the poorest and most underserved communities – and is working to establish a network of college-prep public schools as part of the City’s Small Schools Initiative.
“I can’t think of a more important cause than improving public education,” Miller said. “As publishers, we need to do everything possible to grow the next generation of readers, and as New Yorkers, we have a moral obligation to help those in our community whose opportunities are limited.”
When on a trip (“not vacation”) to Burundi this past August, Barbara Lowenstein, of Lowenstein-Yost Associates, met Paul Farmer – founder of the international organization Partners in Health. Farmer, who works with people such as Bill Clinton and Bill and Melinda Gates, and Lowenstein, who has worked on the Hillary and Kerry campaigns, became involved with the Village Health Works (VHW), an organization founded by a Burundi currently pursuing his medical degree in the US, Deo Niyizonkiza.
VHW is in the process of constructing a community health center in the rural village of Kigutu, Burundi. The group has already secured 26 acres of land slated for development, and the village has been extremely active in building the infrastructure for the clinic.
Although Lowenstein has been heavily involved in fundraising activities over the past 25 years, she says that this is the first project she’s ever gotten involved with so thoroughly from the ground up. On November 8, Lowenstein hosted a fundraiser with Farmer, author Tracy Kidder and founder Niyizonkia that raised over $90,000 for the project – enough for more than 100,000 people in the village to receive medical care. Numerous publishing people helped coordinate the event, including CDS Books (now Vanguard) Publisher Roger Cooper, and agents Irene Skolnick and Madeline Morel.
Dan Weiss, Publisher of Barnes & Noble Educational Publishing, is involved with Echoing Green, a non-profit that provides seed capital to social action entrepreneurs.
Weiss became involved with the organization after his daughter interned there a few years ago, and recently joined the board. Every year Echoing Green awards 12 recipients (out of an applicant pool of over a thousand) a fellowship to fund their social action efforts and start up orgs. “We have a 77% sustainability rate,” Weiss said, after five years the organizations are still up and running, often with the fellows still at the helm.
The 2006 fellows include organizations based in Tel Aviv, South Africa, Kenya, India, Guatemala and DC which, for instance, work with engineers in developing countries to establish micro-manufacturing enterprises, which will allow them to produce low cost, environmentally sound infrastructure products such as windmills and water purification systems.
Weiss said that Echoing Green recently published a book entitled Be Bold that targets college and grad students looking for a career path in the field.
The Echoing Green and Be Bold sites have a similar look and feel as SparkNotes.com, but are not professionally affiliated (Weiss did, however, get a bunch of the SparkNotes crew to volunteer their design savvy). Affiliated orgs include: GOOD magazine, NYTimes Job Market, Idealist.org, WK Kellogg Foundation, and City Year.