By Cary Hull
When you open your book at the beach this summer, chances are good that you’ll be “on the same page” as the person in the next beach chair. Chester, Deep River and Essex residents of all ages are being given the first-ever opportunity this summer to participate in a community read of “Three Cups of Tea” or its companion books for young readers.
Chosen by community ballot, “Three Cups of Tea” has been described as a remarkable adventure story and “proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world.”
Community reads have become very common throughout the country. “People can go for days at a time not talking to anyone outside their immediate family,” said Nancy Pearl, director of the Washington Center for the Book. “There are precious few opportunities for people of different ethnic background, economic levels or ages to sit down together and discuss ideas that are important to them.”
The goal of this summer’s “On the Same Page” community read, sponsored by the Healthy Communities ∙ Healthy Youth initiative, is to change that. Funded through Middlesex United Way, the Healthy Communities ∙ Healthy Youth initiative in Chester, Deep River and Essex focuses on building youth developmental assets (the building blocks or ingredients for a young person’s success). “The more assets a young person possesses, the more likely he or she will be emotionally healthy and successful in life.” The feeling of community – having a caring neighborhood, other adult relationships, positive family communication and support – is one essential component of these developmental assets, according to the Asset Development Strategy Team, which is leading the Healthy Communities Healthy Youth efforts.
That’s where the community read program comes in. Being “On the Same Page,” according to the Asset Development Strategy Team, will “enrich and enhance community and family connections and engage our youth as contributing members to their community while sparking an interest in reading. Through exploring a common theme, bonds will be built, strengthening a feeling of community within our three towns of Chester, Deep River, and Essex.”
For those of you who don’t know the book, “Three Cups of Tea” is the true story of mountain climber Greg Mortenson, and how he has changed the lives of 58,000 school children (many of whom are girls, otherwise denied schooling) in his quest to bring education to Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s rural villages. He started the work after his 1993 attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2 mountain. After becoming separated from other climbers in his group, Mortenson ended up in a village where he was cared for by the residents. During his recovery, he noticed the children did not have a school building or any learning materials and that they used sticks to write their lessons in the dirt, and he vowed to return to build them a school.
There are three versions of the book, geared to all reading levels and all generations – from grandparents down to preschoolers. For adults, there’s “Three Cups of Tea: One man’s mission to promote peace…One school at a time.” There’s a Young Readers edition, “Three Cups of Tea: One man’s journey to change the world – One Child at a time,” and a picture book version, “Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea.”
The Asset Development Strategy Team (made up of Dr. Ruth Levy, Phil Miller, Rev. Tim Haut, Mary Hambor, Gail Onofrio, Laura Kasprow, Marjorie Russell, Jane Cavanaugh, Gina Sopnewski, Barbara Vandehei, and Justyna St. Onge) says, “We would like to invite you to participate in whatever way you would like – from reading the book with your child – to helping us create meaningful experiences around it – to participating in those experiences.” Discussion groups for the book are being arranged for each of the towns this summer.
Anyone who wants to offer a place for a discussion group is asked to contact Gail Onofrio at Tri-Town Youth Services (860-526-3600) by June 30. Some groups will be for adults, some for families. The committee is also trying to establish a blog so people can “discuss” the book from anywhere this summer. Options for a culminating event in October and doing something with Pennies for Peace are still being considered.