United America: Rediscovering Our Common Ground

We are excited!

Many readers—just like you—already are pitching in, helping us to spread the hopeful news contained in Dr. Wayne Baker’s United America: The surprising truth about American values, American identity and 10 beliefs that a large majority of Americans hold dear. Today, we’re going to tell you about just one of the communities pitching in: an inspiring grassroots network near Philadelphia that has sprung up in recent years from an idea that started in just one family—among the children in that family!

ALSO NEW TODAY: Dr. Baker’s book is intentionally designed for discussions in any venue, including public school classrooms, libraries, as well as team-building exercises in corporations and non-profits. But, we know many church-based groups are eager to discuss this book. So, today, we are debuting a free downloadable Bible Study Guide to this new book, developed by a top author of Bible study materials.

And, before we take you to our story from the Philadelphia area—

Here’s all you need to know to join in this nationwide movement of people rediscovering our common ground through these core values documented by Dr. Baker at the University of Michigan’s prestigious Institute for Social Research. To help promote a United America, you can …


WITHIN DAYS OF PUBLICATION, last week, we got an enthusiastic email from Kahra Buss, who lives in New Jersey not far from Philadelphia with her family and their growing community of volunteers. The good news found in United America—that one of the nation’s top social scientists has documented the surprising breadth of Americans’ common ground—is sparking all kinds of fresh ideas, Kahra said.

“When we received your book we were immediately flooded with a host of ideas about how to incorporate it into our programs and lessons,” Kahra said. “We were so flattered to be included, we couldn’t help but get excited about all of the possibilities!”

Kahra and her family appear in the pages of United America. Their inspiring story is one of many short, real-life stories Dr. Wayne Baker shares with readers in the book to demonstrate the potential of these 10 core values to connect and motivate grassroots programs.

Get the book to read more, but here is the story of the life-changing moment for this family living across the Delaware River from Philadelphia in Moorestown, New Jersey—

The moment came quite unexpectedly one night in 2009 at their church. Kahra Buss, her husband and their three children (aged 2, 4 and 9 at the time) volunteered to help with a local rotating homeless shelter, which housed needy families in various churches for a week at each location. The Buss family brought dinner for the families in the program and then spent the evening with them. The kids—the Buss children and the children in the homeless families—did homework together, played together, read storybooks and quickly formed friendships.

Near bedtime that night, Kahra’s family headed toward the church’s parking lot to drive home. “That’s when Grace, who was 4 at that time, looked around the parking lot and saw that we were the only ones leaving the church. Grace asked, ‘Why aren’t they going home like us?'”

As Kahra vividly recalls that night in the parking lot, “We explained to the girls that these families didn’t have homes. Our girls hadn’t fully understood the idea of homelessness until that moment. It was if someone had completely pulled the rug out from under their world.

“The children in the shelter had just become their friends. Our girls now realized that their new friends were not able to get into a car and head home, climb into bed, hug their favorite stuffed animal and listen to a bedtime story in their own bedrooms.

“This truth hit them far harder than we ever imagined. Grace looked at us and said, ‘We need to do something.'”

My husband and I agreed. “We said, ‘We all need to do something.'”

That word “all” turned out to be the sticking point. “We learned that they were too young to do anything in the existing programs around Moorestown,” Kahra said. “They best we could find was a food bank where they could come with us, mainly to get a tour of the food bank. My husband and I feel very strongly that it is important to give children, at that age, an opportunity to get involved in helping other people. Everyone can do something to help, even children at that age. And, if they start at that age, it becomes a lifelong practice.”

Like most young children, the Buss kids’ first ideas were … well, a little impractical. Grace declared: “We should build a hotel where homeless people can stay.”

Kahra explained to her daughter, “We’ll have to wait a while to try that.” Instead, the children decided to organize a local food drive to restock food pantry shelves. And that idea proved so fruitful that … Well, read Dr. Baker’s book to find out everything else the Living Civilly nonprofit is doing in that corner of New Jersey. Working with children, the Buss family’s nonprofit has expanded to a wide array of creative programs from community gardens to distribution of healthy after-school snacks to innovative peer mentoring programs in which older kids help younger kids with homework.

Everything the Live Civilly nonprofit organizes benefits families, especially focused on children—both in receiving assistance and in providing it!


What does it mean to “pitch in” and to “to join in this nationwide movement of people rediscovering our common ground”? We hope you will share fresh ideas with us. Email us anytime at [email protected] Meanwhile, look at the bullet-point list of options at the top of today’s story.

Here is what Kahra Buss and her nonprofit already are planning to do with Dr. Baker and United America. Perhaps one of their ideas is good for you and your group?

PERSONALIZED EDITIONS OF UNITED AMERICA: Our publishing house can modify group orders of United America, directly shipped to you or your group. Kahra’s group plans to order a box of books personalized for Live Civilly with the group’s logo printed on the book’s cover and a half dozen pages added to the opening of the book (actually bound into the books in that box shipped to them in Moorestown), explaining to readers of those personalized editions more about the story behind Live Civilly. That first box of books will go to long-time supporters of their organization and will serve as an outreach tool to new supporters. Rather than giving supporters a logo-stamped water bottle or other typical promotional gifts, these special copies of United America are an inspiring and motivating keepsake. Interested? Email us anytime at [email protected]

HOSTING DR. BAKER FOR AN EVENT: Reading the good news contained in United America inspires readers, just as it did Kahra Buss this week. As you can read in our first story about the book’s release, Dr. Baker already has tested this book with pilot groups in two cities. We have seen the transformative impact of this book. Kahra Buss is talking with Dr. Baker about planning an event in their part of the country, including a keynote talk by Dr. Baker. Interested? Email us anytime at [email protected]

THIS IS REAL NEWS: Grassroots organizations like Live Civilly always are struggling to raise awareness through regional news media. This is a perennial concern for groups nationwide. Kahra’s organization is raising awareness, right now, through national news about United America. The fact that, today, you have read about Live Civilly is a part of that effort. Together, we all can raise awareness of this important kind of community-building. Got an idea about this? Email us anytime at [email protected]

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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