An hour at a coffee shop reading a book means a lot to the members of the Next Chapter Book Club.
“Book club is amazing, I tell you,” club member Chelsea Bauman said. “I’m loving every part of it.”
The Next Chapter Book Club, based in Westminster, provides opportunities for teens and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities to read together in a community setting.
“Generally, most books will take us a long time to read,” program coordinator Jen Holmes said. “The goal is that the participants read the books — we don’t read the books to them.”
Most of the group’s members have some reading ability, Holmes said. But she told a story of a participant who couldn’t read at all when he first started attending.
“Jerry couldn’t read any words, and now, about six months later, he has some sight words,” Holmes said. “He is learning how to read.”
To help Jerry learn, Holmes used a technique called echo reading. She would read and, while looking at the words, Jerry would repeat after her.
“Words like ‘and’ and ‘the,’” Holmes said. “He knows those now. I don’t need to read them to him.”
Thelma Valdez, mother of Lucas, a book club participant, also is a substitute volunteer in the program. She supports Next Chapter for many reasons.
“It’s an activity that gets them into the community,” Valdez said. “They read at a level that (Lucas) can comprehend, and it’s a great way for him to be with his peers and have fun.”
The groups have five to eight participants with two volunteers, but Holmes said she is looking for more volunteers so she can start more groups.
The club meets for one hour a week at coffee shops, currently at either a Caribou Coffee shop or a Barnes & Noble in Westminster. Being in a public, community setting is important to the program.
“We’re in the community and we’re not only reading, but we’re having fun,” Holmes said. “And the community is getting more exposed to people with disabilities.”
Lopez also believes being in the community is important.
“Where they are meeting at the Caribou, they have been very accommodating. They are all young adults and they can get loud,” Lopez said. “But these are the types of interactions with the community that they need, where they aren’t treated differently.”
Lopez said her son knows he will get hot chocolate and see his friends, whom he may not see otherwise, since none can drive.
“The best part,” Lopez said, “is that before they start, they socialize, and at the end, they socialize.”
Bauman loves the social aspect and is excited she is making new friends.
“We laugh, we talk and we communicate with each other,” Bauman said. “It’s a great time to have fun.”