Message in a book: Reaching out to wounded warriors

Megan Cloherty, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – A group of young adults motivated by their desire to give back to America’s veterans has started an effort that is bound by their shared passion for books.

Vetted Books collects donors’ favorite books and asks them to write a message of inspiration and support on the inside cover for the wounded warrior who will read it.

The effort got its start when Bethesda native Carl Ehrlich met Georgetown alum Bettina Bergoo and Jared Bolhuis, a former Marine rehabilitating at Walter Reed Medical Hospital.

Bolhuis shared his experience, mentioning how the books and magazines in the facility were outdated with crinkled, torn pages. The conversation furthered Ehrlich and Bergoo’s idea for Vetted Books.

“We thought that there was a gap there in terms of the books that would really serve to enhance the recovery process that [veterans] are going through at the hospitals,” Bergoo says.

So far there are only 50 books in the program, but one-by-one the group is collecting books that already hold a special meaning for their readers. The message inside the book is the personal touch that Bolhuis says can make all the difference to the veteran who picks it up.

“Knowing that someone actually had to take the time and put effort into what they wrote as opposed to throwing a book in a bin,” he says.

“Believe it or not, just the simple knowledge that someone did something like that for you is sometimes all it takes to get someone revived again.”

After Bolhuis moved to Colorado to start a non-profit veteran community called Welcome Home Montrose, he partnered with Vetted Books to ensure the donated books were accessible to veterans.

The community, which caters to wounded veterans physical and psychological needs, opened its resource center on Sept. 11 with a bookshelf reserved for Vetted Books.

“So far, whenever vets come in to sit down and read or grab a book to take home … the only books that anyone has ever grabbed yet have been the Vetted Books,” Bolhuis says. “[A veteran] opens it up and there’s the note in there with a mini flier and then the veterans are starting to realize those … have been at the top of the list for someone else to read.”

While Ehrlich travels overseas for work, Bergoo is working to expand the program and share the books with recovering veterans at Walter Reed Medical Hospital. Donors can choose to send their book to one of two addresses in either Colorado or in Maryland depending on their preference of where their book is donated.

“We do ask that, if people want to, they can put their contact information into the book so the wounded warrior can reach out and say ‘thank you’ or … maybe write back and forth several times,” Bergoo says.

Because Vetted Books is filled with donors’ favorite books, the titles are ones most veterans recognize. The messages inside them can range from supportive to incredibly personal.

Bolhuis himself read “The Life of Pi” during his recovery from traumatic brain injuries he sustained while serving in Afghanistan.

“The person who had the book before me wrote in there comments such as, ‘I know this may not compare to what you’ve gone through, but I enjoyed the book because I was also through a traumatic experience and I had to fend for myself,'” Bolhuis says.

After reading it, he put the book back on the shelf, but the message from the donor stayed with him.

“He thought I’d relate to this book in terms of watching a boy come out of this struggle on top, and that’s exactly what happened,” Bolhuis says. “It connected with me immediately.”

The group hopes donations will increase and they will reach more vets with their big idea.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)