Volunteer’s book hooks youth on helping others
March 16, 2008
If Christine Reyna Maxwell’s social studies teachers were forced to bet on which of their students would write a book on charity, they might not have put their money on her.
Her sketchy memories of volunteering as a Brownie in Corpus Christi, Texas, don’t exactly paint a picture of youthful altruism. She remembers taking part in high-school fund- raisers, but, she laments, they were all for the benefit of the school, not others.
Then three years ago, at age 30, Maxwell got an e-mail from an Army friend who was deployed to Afghanistan.
The message pleaded with Maxwell and others to send pots, pans, clothes, blankets — whatever they could — to give to poor Afghans and Pakistanis living in squalor. The request included pictures, graphic depictions of the state of affairs there.
“It was just horrible,” said Maxwell, a former registrar at Wiesbaden Middle School in Germany.
The Pakistani refugees were crammed into a compound of windowless concrete buildings. The local Afghans didn’t have it much better. “It was just heartbreaking to me to see that,” she said.
Maxwell started a donation drive, but, she admits, she didn’t really know what she was doing. She scoured the Internet for ideas and books on what to do.
“I just felt like I didn’t have a guide,” she said. “There’s more to it than, ‘Hey, if you have any clothes, bring them on by.’”
When the ideas she came across didn’t pique her interest, she came up with some of her own. With help from friends, the community and the school, the drive collected 120 moving boxes’ worth of donations over a two-week span.
When the drive was finished, she wanted to do it all over again. “It’s addicting,” she said.
Maxwell, who still lives in Wiesbaden with her husband, looked for other volunteer opportunities in the area, collected eyeglasses to send to poor countries and traveled to Romania with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a needy family. And then, almost as an afterthought, a book happened.
Maxwell and her husband, Marc, were in the process of adopting a baby girl when she started writing down a list of activities she wanted to do with her daughter. The list included all kinds of charitable things she wished she’d done growing up.
“I just want to make her life better and see the world in a positive way and be a positive person,” she said.
The list grew in length and detail, while the arrival of the Maxwell’s daughter was delayed over and over again. When her husband saw what she had, he suggested she turn her ideas into a book. He was a published author, and Maxwell figured he knew what he was talking about.
Writing a book wasn’t something she had considered, but with the adoption delayed, she worked nights and weekends to turn her list into something other people could use.
It was taking shape as a guidebook — the guidebook she needed but didn’t have during her first drive — to execute volunteer projects such as cleaning up nearby streams and organizing auctions for fund-raisers.
She typed away with the understanding that if it were ever published, she’d donate all proceeds to charity.
That happened more quickly than she expected. The first publisher she contacted snatched it up.
“I thought her idea was terrific,” said Bruce Franklin, her publisher at Westholme Publishing. “There really isn’t much available that explains the many options and ways young people — those between 6 and 24 — can contribute to their communities through volunteering.”
But Franklin wanted more. Maxwell had already come up with about 25 step-by-step volunteer activities; Franklin wanted 25 more.
“You have to commit yourself to volunteer work,” she said. “You can’t just quit.”
She didn’t. It had taken her eight months to come up with and design the first three activities; she redoubled her efforts and churned out the whole second half of the book in six months.
Maxwell’s “The Ultimate Volunteer Guidebook for Young People” was published in November, and was mentioned in January on the Web site Volunteer Match. After that, the book briefly sprang to number three on Amazon’s list of books about volunteering, and number one on its list of non-formal education titles.
Maxwell was excited, but, she said, it’s more important to her that people use the book.
“I do want it to raise money for my causes, the causes that I care about,” she said, “but mostly it’s actually (about) doing the volunteer activity itself.”