December 28, 2006
Barri Evins: A Book Can Change the World
"It is hard to convey the special sense of respect, dignity and approbation that can be conveyed by calling someone 'a real mensch,'" writes Leo Rosten in "The Joys of Yiddish."
The Yiddish word infuses the basic German denotation -- "person" -- with an almost indefinable connotation. A mensch is a person who is upright, honorable, decent, as Rosten writes, a person to admire and emulate.
So, why not just call such people saints or angels? Because, as the stories below will demonstrate, these people have no such airs. They are people, like you, like us, who in the course of schedules no less hectic and demanding than our own, manage to reach out and help others, make the world a better place, day in and day out. They are doing what we all should, and what we all can do, despite the fact that most of us don't. They are just people -- menschen, to use the proper Yiddish plural -- who understand the power and possibility of what just one person can do.
So, we are delighted to introduce you to The Journal's second annual List of Top Ten L.A. Mensches. This year we've added a new category, as well: Honorary Mensch -- A non-Jew whose work exemplifies this very Jewish notion. Thank you, Marilyn Harran.
And thank you to all our mensches. Maybe next year, we'll all be candidates for the list....
"We want them to feel important and cherished" said Evins, who 15 years ago created From the Heart, a nonprofit designed to promote literacy and foster a love of reading in children living below the poverty line.
The daughter of two psychologists, Barri Evins was born in Florida and raised by a mother whom she describes as "an extraordinary woman ... a philanthropist, and a hands-on volunteer."
Evins emphasized "hands-on," because that is at the core of the philosophy of From the Heart.
"We want them to have something new of their own," she said. "To create that moment is a transformational experience for both the people who are giving and those who are getting."
For many children, this gift is the first book ever to go into their home.
Evins is dedicated to the concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world). She firmly believes that "when you give a child a book, you give them the world" and, by promoting literacy, you can empower them to do virtually anything.
Her organization works most of the year collecting, counting and sorting books and preparing for the Big Book Giveaway, where volunteers, often together with their families, meet at Head Start centers to put the books into the hands of some 5,000 children who range in age from 3 to 18. To date, From the Heart has given away nearly 70,000 books.
A graduate of Northwestern University, Barri heads her own film production company, "be movies." She is currently working on a project about Stetson Kennedy who, she says, was considered to have been the single-most important factor in curbing the Ku Klux Klan.
While From the Heart was started with a group of young women in the film industry, it has grown greatly, and today, Evins said, its biggest challenge is "finding other people from all walks of life who would like to get their hands dirty, shlepping, sorting and giving books to make sure that each child gets a book that excites them."
On a personal level, Evins confided that she would "like to find a nice Jewish boy who'd like to help me give out books."
From the Heart works with One Voice, a grass-roots, nonprofit agency that creates meaningful, innovative and effective ways for people to help others in need. It has no overhead and all contributions are used to carry out its mission.
To contribute or volunteer, contact Barri Evins at FromTheHeart345@aol.com.