My hazel-eyed girl

I recently volunteered to help out at the 10th Anniversary celebration and benefit for Behind the Book (BtB), a non- profit organization that enables writers to share their work and encourage reading at underserved city schools.  (A WSJ article about it: I don’t know if you remember but I referenced BtB in a post I wrote in May ( but only that I was going to be volunteering for my first time with a class that was working on completing a comic with the great, Alex Simmons.  I had a blast that day, and subsequent trips I’ve taken on behalf of BtB have been just as great.  Every time.

The week before this event, emails went out looking for volunteers, and while I didn’t exactly get back to them in a timely fashion, in my head I was on it like white on rice.   Or brown.  Or sticky.  I knew I was up for doing whatever they needed me to.  I really dig BtB so this wasn’t an obligation, nor time that could’ve been spent elsewhere doing something that wouldn’t have made as big an impact.  I really wanted to be there.  And I really wanted to see them succeed.

Not the giving tree but suspend disbelief for a moment.
Not the giving tree but suspend disbelief for a moment.

A little bit after I arrived I’m told my responsibility is to man the “Giving Tree.”  It was a branchy, leafless tree with a cool loft”y” vibe decorated with hand made, colored craft paper leaves inscribed with donation amounts and a description of what those donations sponsored.  I’m completely down for this task. After all, I love talking to people, and the subject matter is something I enjoy.  Speaking of enjoyment, and you can ask my wife this –  every time, and I mean every time, I leave one of the classrooms after volunteering, I immediately call her and tell her what an incredible time I had, how awesome the kids were, how much fun it was and most of all, how amazing I feel/what great a mood it puts me in.  True story.

So, I’m manning this tree and the crowd starts flowing in.  Before I know it, the line is practically out the door and a call for reinforcements was made – I was put on coat check duty.  No worries at all.  For me.  Unfortunately not for the coat check dude who was COMPLETELY overwhelmed with inadequate space and an inferior system.  Truth be told I was going to make myself scarce when the clock struck 12 — turns out I didn’t need to resort to such tactics because the guests seemed to leave on a staggered schedule — but I was there to help get through the initial rush.  Of course Lee Woodruff, the keynote speaker of the night, comes over with this mammoth-but-stylish aqua blue floral duffel type bag which I gladly took (I didn’t realize it was her by the way), placed it among all the other not-ticketed bags, and reassured her that it would be easy to find when she left. Then we exchanged pleasantries, and she was off.  If only I had been quicker, in retrospect, I could’ve had her rolling if I threw on my serious face and told her I needed to give her a claim tag because I checked 3 other bags just like it that night.  I know she would’ve laughed.  But the moment is gone.  Forever.  Maybe one day I’ll remember it that way.

Anyway, back to the Giving Tree.  I had a blast chatting up whoever happened to mosey on over to my neck of the woods, and while it was somewhat busy,  I was able to share with a bunch of different people.  And although the sharing was genuine, I *was* hoping that people would feel inclined to grab a leaf and add to their initial donation.  So while most of my blabbering was about time spent in the classroom, seeing the kids smile and knowing I was making a difference, I was able, on a couple of occasions, to share this funny little anecdote about a classroom visit.

Real good read. Thanks Paul!

We were there to review the book Ten Mile River, by Paul Griffin.  Incidentally, I met Paul that night, and saying this man has a heart of gold is an understatement.  I’m glad I met him – it was truly my pleasure.  He is just a real, sweet, down to earth person.  And truly in it FOR THE KIDS.  But back to the classroom visit.  Here’s what happened…

We’re always encouraged when we first sit down with the children to break the ice.  As simple as a “hey, what’s your name? And how are you doing today?  My name is Brian, blah, blah, blah…”

In this case, it was a ninth grade class and I decided to up the ante – I asked the young boy and girl I was working with, what they did that weekend.  I don’t remember what the boy said because of what followed.

The young girl answered that she spent the weekend at her cousin’s place getting ready for Christmas.  I asked about wrapping the gifts and such, and then I told her that I took my daughter to see the Tree at Rockefeller Center.

Without any hesitation, she looks me directly in the eyes and says, “does your daughter have your blue eyes?”

“Ummm, uhhh, why, no, she doesn’t.  She’s got brown eyes… so, which character did you think was most responsible for Ray and Jose’s plight?”

They’re all sweet kids.  And she was one, too.  And the story made for some hearty laughter.  It didn’t necessarily translate into purchased leaves but I enjoyed making people laugh.  And I love having a good time with good people. Like I did that night.  I’m already looking forward to my next project.


Hopefully I’ll get to meet more awesome volunteers and wonderful authors like Kam Mak, who I was fortunate enough to meet and work with after he read his book, My Chinatown, with the children.  And I’m looking forward to seeing BtB continue to grow under the direction of the magnificent Jo Umans and her team.  World… it’s on!

PS – If you’re interested, and I would really appreciate it, in doing anything for Behind the Book, there are many ways to help:

1 Comment

  1. Doug Messineo says:

    It sounds like you are a born teach Brian!!!!


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