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Awakin Calls » Rick Brooks

Rick Brooks: Community builder, non-profit leader
Mar 17, 2018: Building Community Through Free Little Libraries


Call Just Closed
Blog entry and transcript coming soon!  

Rick Brooks is a dedicated community builder who has initiated numerous community-based projects and experiments, including co-founding the Little Free Library project, a movement that has spawned 60,000 registered Little Free Libraries in all U.S. states and over 80 countries around the world over the last six years or so.  Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood gift-based book exchanges around the world.  Millions of books are exchanged each year, profoundly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds, and fostering a spirit of gift. According to Rick, “The Little Free Library movement developed after I saw a box of free books in See full.
Rick Brooks is a dedicated community builder who has initiated numerous community-based projects and experiments, including co-founding the Little Free Library project, a movement that has spawned 60,000 registered Little Free Libraries in all U.S. states and over 80 countries around the world over the last six years or so.  Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood gift-based book exchanges around the world.  Millions of books are exchanged each year, profoundly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds, and fostering a spirit of gift.

According to Rick, “The Little Free Library movement developed after I saw a box of free books in the form of a one-room schoolhouse [in Wisconsin] …. It was my conviction that such a small object could carry a good deal of social freight, so to speak. … By focusing on generosity, sharing, mutual support and grassroots efforts, we could facilitate connections among neighbors and demographic groups that seemed to live near each other without really knowing how they could nourish a sense of community.” 

“Little boxes of our favorite books seem to be able to make a difference,” Rick says.  “They offer us an excuse to get to know each other by sharing what we love. … Obviously, this is all about something more than just books.  … These so called ‘boxes of books’ have stimulated all kinds of practical attempts to nurture each other:  Little Free Pantries. Neighborhood Gift and Blessing Boxes, Little Free Art Galleries. Rest stops for daily strolls and bike rides.  Seed exchanges.  Memorials. Places to remember and honor people we love.”

Rick has dedicated his life to community building.  Until the age of 12, he lived in Wichita, Kansas.  His experiential education began thereafter when his family moved to Kodaikanal, South India.  It continued in Peru, Mexico, Tunisia, Jamaica and Sri Lanka as well as the United States. Vocationally, he started as a teacher of English in Peru, then worked as a park ranger while a Beloit College student of anthropology. From 1969, his “career path” saw him as a child care worker, hospital housekeeper, hospital administrator, newspaper reporter, editor and publisher, youth services director, then marketer and outreach program manager in Continuing Studies for the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 26 years.    

As a teacher, he has served in K-12 schools, after-school programs, 2-and 4-year colleges, graduate and continuing studies programs.

Rick co-founded two youth communication centers, a network of youth newspapers, a center for social marketing, a community food and gardening network, a local independent business alliance, time bank, and eventually, the Little Free Library movement. He has also been active in the U.S. and abroad with the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement of Sri Lanka and Nepal, and served as a board member for more than 30 non-profit organizations ranging from a statewide food program (SHARE WI) and positive youth development initiative to literacy, microfinance, sustainability and human service groups.   

He and his wife Sarah now live in rural Princeton, Illinois, where he helped start a regional Small Business Development Center and You Are Here, which facilitates community-based arts and civic engagement projects.

Join us in conversation with this dedicated community builder!


Five Questions for Rick

What Makes You Come Alive?
Witnessing sheer joy, relief, and peace that may not have been present just moments before. Being present when someone jumps the crevice between perceived impossibility and the potential for something good, beautiful and surprising. Facilitating moments of happiness and showing that they can occur at other times and places. Tying together intention, right means and ends. Living in a way that combines serendipity and enduring goodness. Seeing someone laugh or smile.

Your Greatest Inspiration?
Fortunately, the most important things in life cannot be condensed into one event. For me, pivotal moments often signify greater meaning that grows over time. When I was in the fifth grade, for instance, I had my first bout of depression, which I encountered in college in 1968, again in 1973 and in less profound ways several other times. The depression was a gift, even though the suffering was barely bearable. I learned that I could be loved, even when I felt incapable of meriting that love. Shramadana work camps organized through the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka have definitely changed my life. Few methods for community organizing have the elegant, existential elements of such living, working wisdom. I was drawn to the Sarvodaya movement because of shramadana. For many reasons, the tsunami that struck S.E. Asia at the end of 2014 profoundly changed my life as well. Generosity in its most wonderful, challenging and questionable forms. Ask me about that.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
Many times, especially amidst family or community crises, people have given us solace and supported us. And "us" is the right word. When my mother and father decided that our family would go to India for a year, for example, a doctor who had always wanted to do that, but couldn't,sent us $5,000, totally without strings. When both my wife and father were very ill, I had three part-time jobs and we could not make ends meet, we did not have to ask for help. A couple paid for our daughter's schooling and part of our living expenses. My wife's elderly piano teacher quietly gave us enough money for us get by until we could do without it. Friends loved us and cared for us. We will never forget that. Then there are the everyday acts of kindness that nest in my memory. Fuel for life.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Travel to Timbuktu.

One-line Message for the World?
"You are the most precious being on earth: on you depend the lives of all the other living beings and nature....so don't waste a moment." --A.T. Ariyaratne


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