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Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream
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Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream

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by Adam W. Shepard

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Adam Shepard graduated from college feeling disillusioned by the apathy around him and was then incensed after reading Barbara Ehrenreich's famous work Nickel and Dimed-a book that gave him a feeling of hopelessness about the working class in America. He set out to disprove Ehrenreich's theory-the notion that those who start at the bottom stay at the bottom-by


Adam Shepard graduated from college feeling disillusioned by the apathy around him and was then incensed after reading Barbara Ehrenreich's famous work Nickel and Dimed-a book that gave him a feeling of hopelessness about the working class in America. He set out to disprove Ehrenreich's theory-the notion that those who start at the bottom stay at the bottom-by making something out of nothing to achieve the American Dream.

Shepard's plan was simple. With a sleeping bag, the clothes on his back, and $25 in cash, and restricted from using his contacts or college education, he headed out for Charleston, South Carolina, a randomly selected city with one objective: to work his way out of homelessness and into a life that would give him the opportunity for success. His goal was to have, after one year, $2,500, a working automobile, and a furnished apartment.

Scratch Beginnings is the earnest and passionate account of Shepard's struggle to overcome the pressures placed on the homeless. His story will not only inspire readers but will also remind them that success can come to anyone who is willing to work hard-and that American is still one of the most hopeful countries in the world.

Editorial Reviews

In the summer of 2006, recent college graduate Adam Shepard decided to see if he could establish himself in a year, starting with nothing more than a sleeping bag, the clothes on his back, and $25 in his pocket. To validate this test case, Shepard ruled out using previous contacts or relying on his diploma. Not surprisingly, things didn't go as well as hoped; before long, Shepard was selling his blood for money. Eventually though, his perseverance achieved its just reward, thus providing us with a gritty memoir of hard-won success.
Library Journal

Recent college graduate Shepard is tired of hearing people complain about what they don't have. In this rebuttal to Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, he sets off to see how far he can get by starting in Charleston, SC, with $25 and the clothes on his back. His goal is to finish 365 days later with a functioning car, a furnished apartment, and $2500 and be in a position to continue improving his circumstances. Along the way, he lives in a homeless shelter, befriends some interesting characters, and learns things the hard way. Shepard is wise to acknowledge the factors that play to his advantage in his experiment (e.g., he's healthy and does not have a dependent family). This story may inspire young people to realize how one's attitudes and foundational beliefs about society can influence where one goes in life. Shepard's conclusions and recommendations seem a bit simplistic but do not significantly detract from the book's overall impact. Recommended for public, high school, and undergraduate libraries.
—Elizabeth L. Winter

Publishers Weekly
Shepard, a business management major from Merrimack College in Massachu­setts, woke up one morning and decided he wanted to be homeless. He would set out with the clothes on his back and a couple of bills in his pocket and try to prove that, without drawing upon his education, it was still possible to become a success in the land of opportunity. Narrator Peter Berkrot delivers a stellar performance, embodying Shepard during each stage of his captivating journey and delivering an intensely intimate performance that is as subtle as it is unabashed and raw. Berkrot’s tone is that of a hardworking man who refuses to be broken down by society no matter what life throws at him. It’s compelling and earnest, hilarious at times, while devastatingly sad at others. Berkrot ably steps into Shepard’s shoes as the author steps into the shoes of the poorest of the poor in America today. A Harper Perennial paperback. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"Don't believe the naysayers. The American dream---the fable that says if you work hard and follow the rules, you'll make it---is alive and well." ---New York Post

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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5.46(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.60(d)
1040L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt

Scratch Beginnings

Chapter One

Welcome to Crisis Ministries

Tuesday, July 25

There was nobody there.

There has always been somebody there to greet me. After every trip I've taken, it's either been Ma or Pops, a friend, a girlfriend, or, once, even a professor.

But not that night.

Nope. All that welcomed me was the humid evening air of Charleston, South Carolina, the rancid smell of urine leaking from the stalls of the train station's restrooms, and a scruffy looking man gripping a plastic cup half full with coins. That night, I was greeted by a totally new world.

But that was to be expected. I had been preparing for the unpleasant insecurity of this first night ever since my brother had dropped me off earlier in the day at the Amtrak station in Raleigh on his way to work. I had been preparing for my first moment of freedom for far longer than I could remember.

There are plenty of ways to get from Raleigh to Charleston, the city that I had randomly picked out of a hat of twelve other southeastern U.S. cities. You can drive or fly or hitchhike or take the bus. The ambitious, I suppose, could bike or run, but this wasn't that kind of journey. I chose the train because, economically speaking, it was the most efficient choice. And really, I chose to ride the rail for selfish reasons. I didn't want to have to bother with goodbyes once I got to South Carolina's premier port city. Surely whoever dropped me off would have hung over my shoulder for a while to make sure everything was okay.

And I'm glad I chose the train. Even if I had somehow known ahead of time that the ride would beuncomfortable and would arrive three hours late in Charleston, I still would have chosen the train. As it wound along Garner Road, the slow pace of southbound train number 5630 gave me an opportunity to say farewell to my previous life. Yep, that's the same Garner Road that takes you past the YMCA where I lifted weights with Bill, Charles, and Rod and where Jack had taught me how to shoot three-pointers with remarkable precision when I was just twelve years old. It goes past Rock Quarry Road, which takes you to Southeast Raleigh High School where Mr. Geraghty had inspired me to maintain my dreams on the basketball court but to also hold on to my education as a safety net, and past Aversboro Road, which will bring you to within fifty feet of the front doorstep of the home where I grew up. It goes past a collection of fast food joints and retail shops where I ate and shopped, but never worked, and past the sun-tanned tobacco fields that represent a lifestyle far beyond my comprehension, even for a boy from the South.

And now, here I was, alone in Charleston at the corner of Rivers and Durant, wondering if it would be wiser for me to go left or right or if pitching camp under the overpass for the night would be my best option. After all, it was getting late. At least I assumed it was getting late. The actual time? Couldn't have told you. But it was well after dark, and I hadn't seen one person since I had walked away from the train station.

A big-body, black Oldsmobile with tinted windows glided by with a suspiciously high regard of the speed limit.

The tattered map of Charleston that I had found on a vacant seat at the train station was going to prove to be useful. With it, I could more or less find my way on my own. Without it, I would be left to rely on the advice of strangers for guidance.

My first order of business was to find a comfortable place to sleep. Shoot, it didn't even have to be a comfortable place to sleep—just a place, a relatively safe place. As far as I could tell from the assortment of landmarks dispersed throughout the peninsula on the map, the action was happening south of my current location. Perhaps I was being naïve in what could have been a crucial mistake, but I figured that the excitement and opportunity of my new homeland were directly correlated. With excitement came opportunity, and I was looking for opportunity. Left it was.

After walking down Rivers Avenue, and walking some more down Rivers Avenue, the notion of time still hadn't hit me, especially with the expected 6:47 p.m. arrival time of the train prolonged. All I knew was it was dark out—pitch-black dark—and Murphy's Law had thrown off my mental preparations for the trip. A guy asked if I had any spare change.

"No, sorry," I said. I thought about retaliating with, "Do you have some for me? Cuz, uh, I'm actually running a little short myself." But, of course, I didn't. I had always accepted and even appreciated the vagrants that strung a guitar or blew on a saxophone or showcased some other talent at the park or at a subway stop underground, but I had never had any respect for the laziness of beggars.

The sign under Johnson's Chiropractic Clinic illuminated 10:14 and eighty-one degrees. Wendy's and Captain D's Seafood appeared on the right, and my nerves began to ease. Finally! Something familiar. With a little more bounce in my step and determination in my mind, I made the executive—yet uneducated—decision to keep hiking toward downtown for my first night of sleep.

The nagging barks of dogs cooped up in distant neighborhoods didn't bother me as much as the cars whizzing by at blistering speeds. But then again, even the cars didn't bother me as much as the lightning. Terrific! Lightning. Murphy was on a roll.

Or was that just heat lightning? What is heat lightning anyway? Is that the lightning that strikes between clouds or between a cloud and the air? Is it going to rain?

Scratch Beginnings. Copyright © by Adam Shepard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Don't believe the naysayers. The American dream—-the fable that says if you work hard and follow the rules, you'll make it—-is alive and well." —-New York Post

Meet the Author

Adam Shepard is a 2006 graduate of Merrimack College in North Andover, MA where he majored in Business Management and Spanish. Serving as a Resident Advisor during his upperclassmen years, he began to take particular interest in the social issues of our nation. Shortly after graduation - with almost literally $25 to his name - Shepard departed his home state for Charleston, SC, embarking on the journey that has now become Scratch Beginnings.

Scratch Beginnings is Shepard's first work. He presently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Roy_Young More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a great book that demonstrates what can be accomplished with hard work, determination and clear goals. I am planning on buying copies for my nieces and nephews who are currently in college or about to start. There is a lot of negativity these days about the American Dream being dead. I think this book demonstrates that while the road isn't easy, it is still very possible to start with virtually nothing and make something of yourself. While the author clearly had the advantage of an education,although he didn't claim to have a degree in his job search, he still had the benefit of the decision making skills an education brings with it that others in his predicament may not have. What Adam Shepard was able to accomplish in a mere 365 days starting with nothing is an inspiration for anyone who is starting off well ahead of where Adam was when he started his project.
smsnow1 More than 1 year ago
Okay, first off, this book is suchhhhhh an easy read. It will give you a different outlook toward the homeless and poverty-stricken with a glimpse into their everyday lives. There's nothing TOO crazy or many wild stories in the book, but it is 100% REAL and so unique. I would recommend it to absolutely anyone, either as just an eye-opener or a means to confirm people's dreams. So I know he is not an author, just a guy with a story to tell. But I hate how he tends to 'ruin the surprise' alot. There is not much suspense on what will happen to him; he usually gives it away beforehand. But the stories are still really unique nonetheless. I hate how he never tells you people's race or descriptions of their appearances. His attempt at political correctness (I'm assuming) makes it so much harder to really visualize the characters. I also wish we could have known more, or ANYTHING really, about Mickey. I mean, he lived in his house for 2 months, and he never once even mentioned him. Now to go a little deeper into the social science aspect of it, I have to say that I don't completely agree with his 'steps' for appeasing the cycle of poverty that he discusses in the epilogue. I do, however, admire his passion and concern for this epidemic. In my opinon, you can fund programs and preach and teach all you want, but what has to happen is people have to quit being so apathetic and have a completely different attitude and work ethic. Once people do get a more positive and productive attitude, then maybe these resources will be able to help them. But they have to help themselves first!! Okay, I don't want to get all political in a book review, but contrary to what he thinks, that is NOT the government's place. Like I said, I would recommend this book to ANYONE I know, so go out and get it! This is probably the only book I have ever read that I think every person in America at any age could appreciate.
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Robert Berquist More than 1 year ago
Reviewing this book is difficult. Taking on this project was quite brave. What Shepard accomplishes is amazing. But we're not reviewing his journey, we're reviewing his book. Right at the beginning, Shepard makes sure we all know he's not a writer. Sorry man, you're writing a book. I will judge you as a writer and an author. The entire book reads like a blog instead of a novel. Often times, Shepard will go off on a random tangent in the middle of a chapter, and he never really comes back to where it started. It seems like he has too many ideas and lacks the writing skill to put them all on paper. As far as his project, I don't think it necessarily disproves Bait and Switch. The author shows that with hard work, you can claw your way out of homelessness. With hard work, Shepard work his way UP TO poverty, not out of poverty. At the end of the journey, he was working a dead end job slinging boxes and had some money in savings. I fail to see how he planned to actually work out of poverty and into middle class. He didn't lay out any plans or strategies. He simply says "I have a crappy job with no opportunity for improvement and some cash in the bank". I give respect to Shepard for what he accomplished. However, he writes as if he's blogging his project instead of writing a book. I think he makes some sweeping conclusions that are incorrect. But he does show that with hard work, the homeless don't really have to be homeless.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AmblerJP More than 1 year ago
An enjoyable and an interesting insight into a world I hope never to be part of. Shepard does a solid job of investigating what it takes to start from scratch in the US. Not overly political (like "Nickle and Dimed" is), just a look at one person's experience with arriving into a strange town with very limited resources, and the process to get started with a new life.
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Sromero15 More than 1 year ago
This book is about more than a man and his goal to see if it is possible to live the American Dream, it is about the willpower we all have inside of us to be, do, or have anything we want in life. Everyone has a goal or aspiration; whether it would be losing weight, quitting smoking or just making an effort to save a penny here and there. We also, all have a choice of whether or not we are willing to put in the effort into accomplishing our ambitions. What Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard has proven to me is that EVERYONE is capable of pursuing and successfully accomplishing their goals no matter how big nor small they may be. Shepard, through his year-long project of trying to work his way out of homelessness, could possibly work as an inspiration to those who have 'thrown the towel in' and are certain that there is no way of succeeding. The men that Shepard meets (Marcos, Phil Coleman, Easy E, etc.) are truly personified examples of dedication proven by their aim toward escaping the grasp of hardship and onto the solid ground of social and economic stability. I enjoyed the fact that he shared each of these men's stories throughout Scratch Beginnings because it shows that the homeless are more than lazy and mindless, but most are goal-oriented and rational people who have been caught up in unfortunate circumstances. I definitely recommend that everyone reads this book no matter ones age, as long as he or she is willing to accept and learn that they are in charge of their own life (This book does contain profanity and suggestive material so only read it if you consider yourself mature). Overall, I liked the book because it definitely hit home. Making an effort to keep up with my education seems like nothing compared to the men and women who everyday struggle to live while on the streets, the people slaved to the needles and blunts that destroy all hopes for success, and the single-mothers strive to make the life of their children better than they had it. Scratch Beginnings has a lesson to teach everyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
mnlakes More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the sample but the file had problems. It repeated several passages. This was confusing and annoying. I would like to read more but won't buy because of this.
MaxineRae More than 1 year ago
This book is awesome. It has changed my perspective on life so much, and I am only in high school. The best quote in the book that helped me come to this realization is: "no matter what life throws at you, you can take a hold of it and make something better out of it." Definitely read this book!!
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PhotoBySki More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up because Dave Ramsey recommended it. This is the story about how the American Dream is alive and well. I don't know if I could have done what Adam did. That took a lot of guts. Strange city with only $25 and the clothes on his back. This book was an interesting read to say the least. Once you start.you can't put the book down. I found myself cheering for Adam's success. It gave me hope that ANYONE can succeed in the United States of America! You are in control of your own destiny. You have a choice to make. Are you going to succeed or are you going to just follow the crowd? Make your choice. Get this book and be inspired!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SadieDF More than 1 year ago
This is probably one of the best books ever. I wish I would have read this one after nickel and dimed in america. Adam Shepard had the guts to do it right when he set out to see what it would be like to start with nothing. I didnt want to put the book down, it had me laughing in parts of it and totally amazed in others. Really awesome job. More please!