Ellenore's Note: All Is Possible with Friendship, Faith and Funds
As we prepare to celebrate a huge milestone in the coming months - creating and publishing 100+ books in less than three years, I reflect back on what made it all possible. Looking back, I think that these three simple words that capture a lot of what it took: friendship, faith, and funds.
My friendship with Jane Kurtz began in 2010. I was looking for concrete ways to connect my daughter to her birth country and her culture. We had both read and enjoyed Jane's books, and when we learned of the opportunity to plant a library (supply it with books and furniture) in Leyla’s birth town of Bahir Dar, we reached out to her. I had never considered furnishing a library or raising funds. Jane encouraged me to try and gave me the confidence that I could figure it out. And with the help of so many in our generous global community, who responded when I reached out for assistance, we did. In 2011, we were able to visit the library site with the whole family. In 2014 the family returned to visit a fully functioning library and in 2019, Leyla and I visited an expanded library which included building a brand new structure that had evolved into a community resource. Along the way, we made many more friends who continue to support these efforts.
The book project had a similar trajectory. Jane and I were both in Denver to promote Ethiopian artists and their contributions to literacy by raising funds. We had a great meal with Stephanie Schlatter, another dear friend, and discussed our newest projects. I was working on starting Open Hearts Big Dreams and Jane had copies of her first prototypes of #ReadySetGo books from her trip with Stephanie and other artists. We talked about how much fun we had collaborating on behalf of kids and literacy in the preceding years. Then we began brainstorming about how #ReadySetGo books could scale large enough to have a major impact as part of my new organization. I was working at Kindle Direct Publishing which gave me a new base of knowledge to inform us. Jane and I decided on a starting goal of 200 books, the size of small library.
But this is where the behind-the-scenes pieces came in, the nitty-gritty hard work few talk a lot about because it’s not so glamorous (or, if we are honest, not always fun). Throughout 2017, we redesigned and experimented to get #ReadySetGo books into a self-publishing format and create a pipeline of content, all with the help of many, many volunteers who connected with our work. Many were friends or became friends through the process. Our first three books were published in print-on-demand form in November 2017.
We had our very first fundraising event that same month, which we needed to help grow our publishing capacity with contract staff, design and storage software, and sample books to provide to those who could promote and expand our work. As in past years, our amazing village showed up and entrusted us with their faith and funds to achieve our goals. In 2018, we started our production team, led by Steffani Stephens, who brought on Kate Bare and others who joined the team in the following years. We published almost 40 books in print and Kindle formats. That year we began adding new languages like Tigrinya and Afaan Oromo. We were picked up by the Seattle Public library (and more libraries since) which maintains a full collection of our books.
Each year we try new experiments - like bigger books and books about other African countries. We engage increasing numbers of volunteers and supporters from kids to art students to amateur and professional artists and writers. And we are both proud and amazed that we will hit our 100th title relatively early in our existence and will close out 2020 with quite a few more. Our goal of 200 unique, culturally-appropriate titles for early readers in Ethiopia and around the globe no longer looks crazy. Now it's fully achievable.
With friendship, faith and funds (plus liberal dashes of resilience, experimenting and learning), truly the sky is the limit as to what is possible to accomplish. Thank you all for contributing to this amazing upcoming milestone, which is worthy of a celebration. We couldn’t have done it without you.