The Bookshelf

Everyone needs an escape every once in awhile. I’ve always found a really comforting one to be through books. I love learning but I also cherish the opportunity to step outside of my life and into the experience of another, no matter if the subject or person is fictional or real.  Not only do I enjoy the mini vacation from my life but I also love the inspiration I receive from reading others’ work. Blogs, books, media and more really push me to think so much more deeply, as well as remind me of why it is I am connected to a particular passion.  

Linda, our VISTA Program Manager, enjoys some Kafka

Every month my fellow Regional Coordinators, the VISTA Leader and I compile a newsletter for the members in our program. We try to include information that is fresh and interesting regarding a theme, such as professional development, future career ventures, ways to save money, and fun things to do during a particular season. Most of the topics are new but we have a few regular sections, including “The Bookshelf,” which I am responsible for. This section provides a book review and is usually recommended by a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator.   

I really like putting this section together for a couple of reasons. I think it’s a great way to engage the members as they share something they care about. It’s a really cool way of getting to know them better. As I enjoy getting to know more about the members I am also learning about some amazing books that I have got to read. For example, one of our members, Elizabeth, has provided us with two thought-provoking books to consider throughout the service year. The first one she suggested was Gang Leader For a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh. Elizabeth, who works at the Community Preservation and Development Corporation, was asked by her site supervisor (along with her other co-workers) to read this book before she started her VMC year. The book tells of the author’s unique journey as a graduate student studying urban poverty in Chicago. During his studies Venkatesh took to the streets in search of answers as to why impoverished communities continue to exist. His inquiries led to an invitation to join a community gang and through this experience he gained some first hand perspectives on their influence on this particular community. Although the story takes place about 20 years ago, some of the social issues currently existing in low-income communities and housing developments resonate with the work Elizabeth does. She also suggested a book she recently read, entitled Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood. This book was extremely inspiring to her as it described the journey of an individual who left an executive position at Microsoft in Asia and started up an international nonprofit, Room To Read,  that builds schools and libraries in developing countries.  

I’ve recently starting reading a book that’s also about an individual’s personal and professional journey throughout the international nonprofit sector. I haven’t had too much free time lately to sit down and enjoy it, but from the little I’ve read so far I am so inspired by the author’s perseverance and strength. The book is called The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World and was written by Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, a nonprofit venture capital firm for poor that invests in sustainable enterprises. At the beginning of her autobiography (just about where I’ve left off) Novogratz describes her idealistic and heartfelt journey of working with local communities in countries in Africa to set up businesses and fairer financial systems. The banks and businesses that were developed gave locals, especially women, opportunities to borrow/pay back money and better support themselves and their families. Her drive to follow her dreams despite criticism and obstacles truly inspires me, especially during my AmeriCorps experience. I can’t wait to finish reading about Novogratz’s life!  

What books have inspired you?

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