To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Like so many people, I read To Kill A Mockingbird as a young teenager. It was a great coming-of-age story with a terrifying but mostly satisfying ending. I read it again in college and thought I’d picked up a different book! Harper Lee’s ideas about inequality, justice, small-town life, and the way that both good and evil can exist side by side in individuals and communities has been worth re-visiting repeatedly.

The often quoted line is, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” It’s a sentiment that resonates with everyone who has worked in social services, who strives to balance tolerance with standing up against injustice. The important word here is “strives.” I’ve worked in social services for a long time and find inspiration in re-reading it every few years.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

Dr. Paul Farmer was honored as the Posey Leadership award winner by Austin College in 2007 and many people who went to hear his lecture read this biography first. This book is an example of a life based on hope and on a Haitian proverb: “Beyond mountains there are mountains.” As you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one, too.

Dr. Farmer is a medical doctor who specializes in medical anthropology and infectious diseases, and started his work in the central plateau of Haiti. With others, he founded the non-profit Partners in Health whose “preferential option for the poor” drives the organization. Dr. Farmer said, “The idea that some lives matter less than others is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.”

If you ever wonder whether one person can make a difference in the world, this is the book to read. Even with just a part of the commitment, intelligence, time, creativity, persistence, and independent thinking that Dr. Farmer possesses, it’s possible to make a change for the better.

Kabloona by Gontran de Poncins

Kabloona was written nearly 80 years ago. It’s the story of a Frenchman who spent 15 months traveling and living with several groups of indigenous people of the far north Arctic region in Canada in 1938. It’s a book about adventure, travel, and a spiritual awakening.

The people whom he described lived on this planet less than 100 years ago, but in a way, that seems unimaginable today. The author was at first appalled by the Inuits’ way of life: eating rotten, raw fish, living without schedules, and helping themselves to his possessions. But as his journey continues, he is transformed from “Kabloona”— The White Man, an outsider— to someone who becomes Inuk: a man, preeminently. It’s easy to think that everyone has the same world view as mine until I read a book like Kabloona. It’s interesting to encounter foreign concepts, as the author did, then incorporate some of those into my own thinking.

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Laurie Mealy is a founding board member of Habitat for Humanity, first serving the group as a volunteer and now as executive director.

Before going to work for Habitat, she worked for Children’s Protective Services in several parts of Texas with foster parents, adoptive parents and as an investigator. Her first post-college job was with Houston Metropolitan Ministries, where she worked in a low-income housing project of about 800 people. She also has a B.A. from Austin College.

Habitat builds small, safe, affordable homes, sold to low-income people in Grayson County who need housing and could not qualify for traditional loans.

“We stay in touch with our families for decades and are able to see how families’ lives are changed when they can purchase a well-built home,” Mealy said.

Since organizing, Habitat for Humanity has built or renovated 39 homes: 16 in Sherman, 18 in Denison, two in Van Alstyne and two in Pottsboro. Habitat started a repair program several years ago and has completed projects for 19 different families— mostly low-income senior citizens whose home needed some exterior repair. Nearly three years ago, Habitat opened a public ReStore in Sherman, selling new and used building materials, appliances, and furniture at affordable prices. All profits from the store go toward building the next family’s home.