Team Building
August 31, 2009
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They met on Boston Common – two men with little in common. One a well-heeled, high-powered attorney, the other a street-schooled, often ignored homeless person.

Rob slept on a sidewalk. Peter had a swank condo in the Back Bay. But every morning they would cross paths here in the park and over the course of several months, actually became good friends, reports CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman.

How did that happen? Such contrasting men, living such disparate lives. You’d think after the weather and box scores they’d run out of things to talk about. And indeed, they did run out.

“So I gave Robert a copy of a book I really loved called ‘Water for Elephants’ and we would talk about that,” Peter said.

Discussing the book became their way of connecting, and a friendship was born.

“And then one day I asked him, ‘What’d you do with the book?’ and he said, ‘I gave it to a fellow over there,” Peter said.

“I knew there were a lot of people who read,” Rob said.

“So it occurred to us that there was an interest out here that could draw people together,” Peter said.

“You’d be surprised by how many people actually read,” Rob said.

About a year ago, Peter and Rob started the Homeless Book Club. The week CBS News visited, the group was dissecting a group of short stories by O’Henry. They meet every Tuesday in a church conference room. Peter buys the books. In the beginning he offered to bring in lunch too, but the members said, “No thanks.” They wanted this to be about more than just another free lunch.

“For me it’s a place to go and escape,” said Donald, a member.

“And to question things,” said Betsey, another member.

“Yeah, I feel more sophisticated,” said Jamie, a member, laughing.

Unlike the others, Jamie, who lives in a roaming house, says he never used to be a reader. His addictions were the priority.

“I picked up the first book and started reading it and I couldn’t put it down,” Jamie said.

Addicted still, only now, to literature.

“If I keep reading, and keeping my mind occupied, I’m less likely to hurt myself in life,” Jamie said.

Testimonials like that are now inspiring other people in other cities, even other countries, to start putting together their own homeless book clubs.

And as for the homeless man who started it all – Rob – turns out, the only reason he couldn’t get subsidized housing was because he had an unresolved moving violation on his record. Fortunately, he knows a good lawyer.

Peter was able to clear up that traffic ticket, which is why tonight Rob is no longer on the streets. He’s housed and working as a church custodian.

About author

Dr Shailesh Thaker

Dr. Shailesh Thaker is a world-renowned management thinker and trainer on organizational behavior and development. He is the CLO of Knowledge Plus Inc., a highly reputed training firm based in Ahmedabad, India, helping organizations to achieve international benchmarks in management practices.

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