After his first book delivery, John returned to his day job at Microsoft…but he says something inside him had changed.
At first, he tried to juggle his corporate responsibilities with his charitable cause. "I was doing my literacy project in kind of a half-baked manner, and I was doing Microsoft in kind of a half-baked manner…and I'm not really a half-baked kind of guy," he says. "I would be getting an e-mail from Bill Gates's assistant about Bill's visit to China, which I was supposedly in charge of. And I was, like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever, because I've got this mail over here from somebody who wants to give me 20 copies of a Dr. Seuss book for our libraries.'"
Although John loved his job and all the perks that went with it, he was ready for a more meaningful existence. "I was feeling the pull," he says. "I thought, 'It's been a great eight years, but I'm making wealthy shareholders wealthier. Meanwhile, there are 800 million people in the developing world lacking basic literacy. … What kind of a man am I if I don't go face this challenge directly or devote my life to this?'"
John made the difficult decision to quit his job so he could dedicate 100 percent of his energy to improving literacy in developing countries. "People said, 'You're crazy. You're having a midlife crisis,'" he says. "And I thought, 'Wouldn't it be a crisis to not follow my heart and not follow my passion?'"
In just seven years, John transformed his side project into a successful nonprofit organization called Room to Read. Thanks to donations from publishing companies like Scholastic and the generosity of strangers, Room to Read has impacted the lives of more than a million children.
So far, John and his team have distributed almost 3 million children's books, constructed 287 schools, established 3,600 libraries and funded more than 2,000 long-term scholarships for girls in third-world countries. But they didn't stop there!
Room to Read has established local language publishing programs throughout the world so children can have access to culturally relevant books that are written in their native languages.
"We've had to literally find the Dr. Seuss of Nepal and the Dr. Seuss of Cambodia and give them a small amount of money to write and illustrate books that then are put in the hands of kids," he says. "By the end of this year, we'll have 250 original titles that we've produced that are all done by local authors."
Since giving up millions to deliver books in rural Himalayan villages, John's life has changed dramatically. He says he's been left standing alone at a few dinner parties by people who were more interested in social status than global literacy.
"You give up a lot," he says. "But when [you] walk into a village … and [watch] the red ribbon get cut on a school, you think to yourself, 'This is not sacrifice. This is something that you can barely describe.' It makes you feel so good."
John may be making less money than he ever has in his life, but he's also putting in more hours than he ever has before. "I feel lucky that I found this, but I also feel a certain sense of impatience because there are so many kids we haven't reached yet," he says. "Every week we get these heartbreaking letters in our office in San Francisco from people saying, 'When can you bring Room to Read to Cameroon? When can you bring Room to Read to the slums of Rio de Janeiro?' … We have to think about all the kids we haven't yet reached, and then just go back to work."
Currently, there are more than 770 million illiterate adults in the world, two-thirds of whom are women and girls. John hopes to change this by building 20,000 new libraries by the year 2020. Help Room to Read reach its goal
by donating a book today!
Last year, more than $300 billion worth of coupons were given out. Shockingly, less than 1 percent of them were used. You may look at coupons in a new light after meeting Barbara Franklin.
In 2000, Barbara began using coupons to buy cartloads of groceries for impoverished members of her community. Savvy shopping allowed her to get hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for less than most people pay for a single meal at a fast-food chain. "[Once] my bill was $187, but when I finished [using coupons], I paid $3.02," she says.
Barbara began passing out food from the trunk of her car, but when the demand outgrew her small Kia, her church allowed her to set up in the basement. Church members also agreed to help her categorize the food, clip coupons and stock up on more groceries. "We would go into the stores every Sunday, and we would wipe out the shelves," Barbara says.
They started out helping 10 families, which grew to 100 and then 1,000. Now, Barbara runs a food pantry that feeds 1,500 families a month!
When Barbara first started passing out food on the streets, she says she realized that it was a doorway into people's lives. Through these interactions, she realized her community needed more than a food pantry…they needed a community center.
Barbara's church donated a nearby building for her community center, and she is working to raise funds to rehabilitate it. She also continues to run a food bank, an after-care center for children, a Section 8 program and a senior drop-off food program. "You could really see what the issues were in our community," she says. "I believed that the community center would be a lighthouse, so that I could see into the lives [of others]."
Want to help people in your community? Instead of throwing away your coupons, you too can save big money on nonperishable food items and donate them to the needy. Find a food pantry near you.
Printed from Oprah.com on
© 2014 OWN, LLC. All Rights Reserved.