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Empowering Local Lives One Book at a Time

Pictured above, the successful and heartwarming outcome of the first Power of Books event for the YWCA, which totaled 141 books for donation to the organization!

We’ve all experienced the power of words. Whether spoken, sung, or written, we know the impact and influence they have. There’s a group of local women and leaders who know just how powerful they can be, and they’re using that power for good.

Josie Danz, Nancy Carriveau, Zoë Absey, and Abby Swegarden are the minds behind the Power of Books Project, an organization with a mission to inspire, elevate, and transform lives through access to books. The local project just held its anticipated second event in August at Pride in the Park, part of the FM Pride celebrations.

The collaborative crew was inspired to bring a project like this to the community after learning about the Minneapolis-based nonprofit, “Women’s Prison Book Project” (WPBP)—which collects and redistributes books to incarcerated women and transgender persons to provide them with the resources they need in order to continue to evolve, learn, and change their lives.

Nancy Carriveau and Zoë Absey wanted to bring the same project to the area, but soon learned the WPBP Minnesota chapter covered North Dakota—so they looked at where and how they could fit that idea into the FM community

The team began to assemble, consisting of a mix of local talent and minds. Zoë, who serves as the community initiatives manager with the Great Plains Food Bank and whose father owns Blackbird Pizza, co-worked the project’s start along with Nancy, a local MBA graduate of clinical mental health counseling. The duo then approached Josie Danz, general manager at Zandbroz Variety and daughter of the bookstore’s co-founder Greg Danz, to ask if she and Zandbroz would be interested in getting involved. The team decided that in its efforts to collect books the end goal would be to get them into the hands of women and children who may be in transitional or disadvantaged situations.

To achieve their goal, the Power of Books Project has partnered with local organizations within the community that serve women and children. In their first event, they worked to give back to the YWCA, raising $1,715 or around 118 books for the YWCA shelter. Each time they host an event, they hope to bring in books or monetary donations to then give back to the organization they’ve partnered with. Each event is held with a different organization in partnership.

After hosting two events and working with two local organizations, the group, who also recently brought on Abby Swegarden, a former English teacher who now works remotely, to work with them, has decided to keep its working model but broaden its reach.

“We started out by identifying that we wanted to work with organizations that work with women and children in transition, but we’ve broadened that to be more inclusive of groups in our community that are marginalized or underserved,” Josie explained. “The three areas that we’ve identified are women and children in transition; youth, specifically LGBTQ+ youth; and the BIPOC community. Our goal moving forward is to work with a variety of organizations that care for those communities.”

BIPOC stands for “Black, Indigenous, and people of color.”

Because the project operates event by event and organization by organization, this broadened scope is an obtainable, fluid, an exciting one at that. Josie explained that the Power of Books Project will be ongoing in partnerships and looking to identify groups that they aim to serve.

If there are organizations that have identified a need for resources and books, and think they could benefit from some of the work that we're doing, we want to encourage them to reach out to us. If there are individuals that feel like they personally could benefit from resources, or there is, for example, an LGBTQ youth that's really struggling and could use resources or books or a place where they can find identity—we want to help those people too. This is something that we feel very strongly about. We don't only want to find the people in the community, we want them to be able to come to us."

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The Power of Books team at the Pride in the Park event last month, (left to right) Nancy, Abby, and Zoë (Josie not pictured).
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Power of Books Project Book Club Kick-Off!

First Meeting—Thursday, October 5, at 6 p.m., at Zandbroz

The book for September is “All Boys Aren’t Blue”—books are available at Zandbroz and anyone interested in the book club will receive a discount. Additionally, the Power of Books Project is happy to make books available to anyone for whom cost is a barrier.

There is a lot of excitement and hope moving forward with the Power of Books Project. The organization found a lot of success in its first partnership with the YWCA, and Josie said they only see that blossoming into something bigger. Moving forward, the team is focused on identifying where they are needed most, as well as the kick-off of an inclusive book club.

“People can pick up books at the store, and if they want to partake in the book club we offer a book club discount, but we also want it to be really inclusive,” Josie said. “With this project, we want to make sure that we can put a book in everyone’s hands who wants to be part of it. We’re happy to make books available to people who might not have the resources to purchase a book.”

This step-by-step, org-by-org effort isn’t the only thing they’re working on, they also recognize the impact and aligned efforts in the recent conversations and legislation against banned books.

“The other thing that we want to create more awareness for is the issue of banned books,” Josie said. “It’s like this two-folded effort that we’re after; which is to increase the availability of books [and] getting books into people’s hands, but then also create awareness for some of the crazy legislation that’s going on towards trying to ban books and really try to combat some of that.”

Zandbroz is holding an event where this conversation and more can take place. Author, founder of McSweeney’s Publishing, and literacy advocate Dave Eggers will be in Fargo visiting both Zandbroz and the Fargo Theater on October 8. He will do a reading and signing during the daytime at Zandbroz, and follow that up with a premier of his documentary “To Be Destroyed” at the Fargo Theatre the same night. In addition, the Power of Books Program will co-sponsor a panel on the subject of book banning and its impact and limitations on society at the theater.

Saturday, October 8, 1 p.m. Reading & Signing by Dave Eggers at Zandbroz

Saturday, October 8, 7 p.m. “To Be Destroyed” Premier at Fargo Theater + Power of Books panel on book banning

“The really cool part about [the project] is as we do more, we recognize the value and where our time and energy are needed, and we’re able to adapt each round. Now that we’ve done the partnership with the YWCA, we’re really excited to see what worked really well, but then also how we can make it even better next time,” Josie said. “It’s been a really great group of women working together on this project, I couldn’t be happier with who I get to work with on it.”

If you want to support the Power of Books Project, flip through the pages of your used books and donate or keep an eye out on their social for updates on the upcoming events!

Written by Geneva Nodland

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