I am often asked by younger members of the community how they can get involved in philanthropy without making a substantial financial commitment. My go-to answers are: 1) educate yourself about your community, and 2) volunteer. One simple and easy way to educate yourself about the issues faced by North Louisiana is…. drumroll please…. to read!
Growing up I loved to read. My earliest memories of reading novels center around the Beverly Clearly characters Ramona and Beezus Quimby and Ralph S. Mouse. I distinctly remember how much I loved the books The Boxcar Children, The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Indian in the Cupboard the first time I read them; so much so that I read each more than once. Beginning in elementary school, I often stayed up way later than I was allowed because I could not put a book down. I guess as far as not following your parents’ rules goes, this is probably a minor infraction.
As a law student and young lawyer, I found it difficult to read for pleasure after reading for work most of the day. Thankfully, after a few years of working I began to rediscover my love of leisure reading. What I did not understand until I was an adult reader is that reading for pleasure has innumerable benefits outside of just entertainment. Reading is a great way to decompress and destress after a long day. In fact, studies have shown that reading (either an old-fashioned printed book or a non-blue light e-reader) before bed can help you sleep better whereas electronics (think artificial blue light) stimulate the mind before bed making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Reading also has several health benefits. Reading is like a workout for your brain. This is because it is more demanding on the brain than processing either speech or images. Reading has been proven to improve memory as it requires the reader to recall multiple characters and subplot lines throughout a novel. It has even been shown to help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Reading improves focus and concentration, analytical skills and writing skills. Moreover, it is very inexpensive entertainment – even free for those who use the public library – so why not indulge in some new or borrowed books?
In my role at Community Foundation of North Louisiana, I have discovered a love for an entirely new genre of reading. Next to the novel I am currently reading, my bedside table also houses a stack of books about any number of philanthropic or humanitarian issues like breaking the cycle of poverty, improving education, criminal justice reform, and tackling blight. Education about the issues that challenge our community is the first step towards more effective philanthropy. Second, it is necessary to identify and appreciate all of the locally available solutions to our problems. Finally, we should study solutions that have yielded success in other communities to determine whether they might strengthen our community’s existing capacity.
To this end, Community Foundation of North Louisiana is launching its first-ever book club aimed at raising awareness about the challenges faced by our community. Beginning in September 2019, we will invite interested community members to join us in reading a new book each quarter. We will discuss the issues raised in the book, how they relate to our community, and what our community is currently doing, or should do, to address the issues.
For additional information and announcements about books and participation in Community Reads, please follow the Community Foundation on Facebook and continue checking our website regularly.
This article was written by CFNLA CEO Kristi Gustavson and originally published in the Shreveport Times on July 14, 2019.