When Everyone Adds Something to the Pot: Stone Soup for the World

Julee Newberger
February 20, 2005

Maybe it was that sense of New England neighborliness that imbued the life of Marianne Larned, as a youth in a small town north of Boston, Massachusetts. Or maybe it was that feeling of responsibility as the oldest of ten children in a family that tried to balance caring for one another with helping others in the community. Surely it was the countless observations of giving and receiving in Larned's life that inspired her sense of "wanting the world to work. . . that feeling and determination to make things better."

At twelve, there were trips to the inner city of Roxbury every week with her mother to help kids learn to read. Larned cherished this time alone with her mother, much of whose time was occupied by Larned's siblings. At an early age, Larned recognized that her mother demonstrated through her volunteering efforts "a strength based in helping others."

Then there were visits from people of different cultures, invited by Larned's world-traveler father, who furnished her with a curiosity and appreciation for those who were different.

Today Larned revels in the success of Stone Soup for the World: Life-Changing Stories of Kindness and Courageous Acts of Service, a book for which she served as editor Called a "handbook for humanitarians," the book features 100 stories celebrating ordinary people doing unforgettable deeds. The stories, which tap our spirit of giving, are inspired by such organizations such as MAD DADS, Share Our Strength and Foster Grandparents. Storytellers include people like Nelson Mandela, Steven Spielberg and former President Jimmy Carter.

Stone Soup for the World features a foreword by Jack Canfield (co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series) and an introduction by General Colin Powell, Chairman of America's Promise, the community service initiative spawned by the Presidents' Summit for America's Future. The Presidents' Summit, held in April 1997, aimed to ignite a revival of civil society and volunteerism in America, especially on behalf of children.

Stone Soup for the World was an ambitious undertaking for Marianne, who hasn't always made her living in the book business. For the last 20 years, she worked as a consultant in public/private partnerships in the health field. "In the beginning of each new project, I would ask the same question: What will it take for you to get others more involved in your community?" Larned told stories of other communities working together to enrich the lives of all their members. But too often, the materials didn't inspire people. "We needed a common language that a CEO, a school teacher, and a kid would be able to read."

While consulting, Larned made kids in the community a high priority. "I'd interview kids and ask the same questions as I'd ask the mayor," Larned says. But she soon discovered a disturbing trend about adult attitudes: "Kids really cared about helping others, but they didn't think adults cared about them." Kids complained that adults—particularly those other than their parents—too often dismissed them, blaming them for crime and problems in the neighborhood. "Adults were concerned that kids were leaving the community when they grew up, but it's no wonder," Larned says. "Kids didn't feel valued."

With the next millennium drawing closer, Larned began to ask herself, "What kind of world are we leaving for our children? Are we teaching them by our actions, as well as our words? We need to educate children about the great leaders who dedicated their lives to making the world a better place, give children opportunities to serve and make a difference in the lives of others."

Her belief in children as our future inspired Larned to publish Stone Soup for the World at a sixth grade reading level. "This book is for kids to read and be part of the story," she says. Larned's experiences consulting in the health field confirmed her belief that people young and old want to create a better world, but often feel disconnected. Often, she thought of a folktale her mother had told her as a child. In the Stone Soup story, a hungry traveler comes upon a small village in search of a shared meal. Eventually, every member of the community finds something to contribute. The soup they create together becomes enough to feed the whole village. "When we each give something," Larned says, "we can feed the hungry of the world and the hunger in our souls."

After the death of her youngest brother Christopher at 19, Larned took some time to contemplate her next career move. Christopher, one-time captain of his high school football team, had overcome a bout with drugs and alcohol and later challenged his teammates to do the same. His short but passionate life was punctuated by efforts to give back to others— which, according to Marianne, "brought more meaning, purpose, and fulfillment to him." Christopher's death inspired Marianne to gather the courage to help young people discover the gift of giving.

Strengthened by her new commitment, Larned invited friends and colleagues from around the world to submit stories about people who'd made a difference. She then selected 100 stories of real people working to help others for her proposed collection Stone Soup for the World.

Organizational and corporate partners are ivited to collaborate with the Stone Soup Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering youth to become leaders in building a better world. Partners will help Stone Soup for the World reach the 10 million young people in America by engaging them in projects to bring people together in their communities. A Stone Soup for the World Web site offers information on the course of events. Larned hopes that National Volunteer Week will be a time to channel our collective resources, organize our business skills, and rally the best and the brightest to support what is working in the world.

Stone Soup for the World is available in bookstores everywhere, or by calling 800-685-9595; trade paperback original $15.95.

Stone Soup Foundation
Contact: Marianne Larned
P.O. Box 4301
Vineyard Haven, MA 02568

Julee Newberger is the former assistant managing editor of Connect for Kids.