MARQUETTE - They greet each other warmly and trade conversation with smiles on their faces. They come from various walks of life, but a love of reading draws them together each week to enjoy friendship and a good book.
These individuals are part of the Next Chapter Book Club, a program designed for people with developmental disabilities. The club offers participants a relaxed environment in various locations, such as cafes and bookstores. The idea was initiated by Thomas Fish, director of social work and family support services at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Established in 2002, the program is now active in more than 100 cities across North America and Europe. In September, Fish, who was a Northern Michigan University undergraduate student, wanted to bring the program to Marquette.
"The book club strives to meet three goals: literacy, community inclusion and being a social group," said Ellen Moore, a reference librarian at Peter White Public Library in Marquette.
Members of the local Next Chapter Book Club gather recently to read their latest book, “Little House on the Prairie.” The club, which is based on an international program that aims to enrich the lives of people with developmental disabilities, includes two groups that meet weekly at Peter White Public Library. (journal photo by Abbey Hauswirth)
Moore said the club immediately took off when it was introduced at the library. What began as one group now encompasses two separate groups with plans to add a third. The library has collaborated with the Superior Alliance for Independent Living, which Moore said has been a wonderful working relationship.
She said although the group is geared for people with developmental disabilities, the club is open to everyone. Kristine Tollefson, community liaison with SAIL, echoed Moore's comments.
"There's no pressure here," she said. "You don't have to know how to read. Some people just like to listen or be read to, and that's OK."
Tollefson said the program brings a sense of community and confidence to its members, and she said the club follows the simple motto: "It's not about learning to read, it's about reading to learn."
As more members join, the library plans to add groups at various times. The NCBC participants decide together what they want to read. The Thursday group is currently reading "Little House on the Prairie," and will soon move on to "Frankenstein."
Along with the group members, two volunteer facilitators, some who also have disabilities, assist with each meeting. Moore said they aim to keep the meetings in public locations where there is a greater sense of community.
"When the groups meet in the open, it draws more interest and participation," Moore said.
Those interested in joining the club are encouraged to attend every week, as those who miss group gatherings will quickly fall behind in the book.
Group member Troy Connors said he enjoys being a part of the group.
"I love to read," he said. "When we meet, you learn to read well and you get to meet new people."
Moore said that donations are always accepted to help purchase books for participants. Kiwanis of Marquette recently donated $250 to the club.
For more information on becoming a volunteer facilitator or joining the program, contact Tollefson at 228-5744 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Moore can be contacted at 226-4312 or by emailing email@example.com.
The first book group meets at 6 p.m. Thursdays in the Tu Kaluthia Cafe on the lower level of Peter White Library. The second group meets at 10 a.m. Fridays in the teen area of the library on the main floor.
Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org