Reader Profile – Jaime Saunders


thumbnail_Jaime-Saunders_General1Jaime Saunders is the President and CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester (UWGR) with a mission to unite the good will and resources of the community so that everyone can thrive. Through the power of collective giving, UWGR raises and distributes more than $30 Million a year to serve more than 200,000 local people with preventive, evidence-informed programs through an interconnected network of human service providers, corporate supporters, local donors, volunteers and community leaders. Prior to joining United Way, Jaime served as the President and CEO of Willow Domestic Violence Center and various leadership roles at Foodlink, Center for Governmental Research, Villa of Hope and the Salvation Army.

What are you reading now?

I tend to read several books at once, right now this includes:

  • The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein who was just brought into town by Pathstone for a wonderful thought-provoking event. Dr. Rothstein makes the case of how our segregated communities in America are not de facto (by fact or chance), but de jure (by law) through a series of policies and laws throughout our history that impact our communities today.
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo. My eldest niece read it as part of her sociology class at Nazareth College last semester and knew it would be of interest to me. She was right.
  • Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt as I am trying to learn new ways of controlling my time and achieving goals. I’ll let you know how it goes.
  • Rochester’s 2034 Comprehensive Plan which is very well done and exciting to dream about our City’s 200th Birthday and how we can collectively shape our future.

Are you a fiction or non-fiction reader?

Non-fiction reader 99% of the time including articles and reports.

What book changed your life, or changed how you view the world? In what way?

  • Maus A Survivors Tale (Part I and II) by Art Spiegelman, which is a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel depicting the Holocaust. It was extremely controversial when it was published in 1991, but for me it was a way to learn more deeply as a teenager about the deep horrors possible in the world. It fueled my passion for justice, empathy for others and call to action.
  • Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor by Patricia J. William opened my thinking when I was in college. The essays on the intersections of identity – race, gender, class – within the context of law and popular culture had a profound effect on how I see the world.

Are there any other books that marked milestones in your life?

When my niece was 9 months old she ended up being admitted to the hospital for 8 weeks as they spoke about lung transplants and treatment plans to help her breathe. It was a very stressful and scary time. Our family would take shifts to be with her in the hospital. The first Harry Potter book was lying around the children’s wing and during one of those ‘shifts’ I picked it up and was hooked. Books can do that – provide a distraction, an escape and a way to get through difficult times.

Then like the rest of the world, I would wait eagerly for the next book to come out (I even took off from work the day the last book came out so I could read it without any spoilers!). I should also note that my niece graduated this year and was the commencement speaker at her High School!

What book challenged you the most when you read it?

The Blue Notebook by James Levine is a novel that is beautifully written and painfully haunting. The story follows a young girl in India who demonstrates resiliency and strength under unimaginable conditions of human trafficking. It is a poetic novel, with a strong call to action. Years later I still think about it.

Do you read with your children? What are some of their favorite books?

Absolutely. Reading was a key part of our bedtime routine. It is only recently that the kids do this more on their own than with me and I miss it! We read nearly all of the Magic Tree House books and the Harry Potter series several times. Going to the public library has been a regular activity for our house where the kids would load up on books we would read one by one.

Book or movie? Is there a movie that you think was better than the book?

Our house rule is you must read the book before we see the movie. Sometimes this means we miss seeing it in the theaters! I like to experience the book without prescribed images, and for me it makes the movie even better (usually) to see what they included, changed or left out. We just watched “The Outsiders” after my son read the book – and it still is excellent, though certainly a different experience than the book.

Does reading influence your decision-making process?

Without a doubt. That is why I am drawn to read mostly non-fiction. I like to learn how groups of people work together to accomplish something greater than they could alone. I like to learn from case studies and lessons from other communities. I usually can find a small nugget of new learning in nearly everything I read which builds and informs how I see and approach decision-making.

Are you a “finisher” or do you stop reading a book if you’re not connecting with it?

Oh I will move on to something else! There are so many things to read and such little time. When I am not connecting with material, like the home organization author and Netflix star Marie Kondo says, “if it isn’t bringing you joy, thank it and move on.”

Why do you read?

I believe reading helps build empathy and better understanding of others and our world. I am also a true work in progress and enjoy learning new skills and insights to help me to be a better person and more impactful in my work.

Write a one-sentence description of yourself as a Reader.

Stacks of nonfiction books piled high throughout the house ready to challenge and inspire.

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