Next Chapter Book Club Members and I Look Forward to Sunday Afternoons at Urban Coffee

The arrival of spring means two great things to anticipate — more bike rides on the Olentangy Trail, and more Subway lunches at the Urban Coffee at the head of the trail in Worthington Hills. 

Besides being my favorite place to split up a Subway, this popular coffee shop is also the meeting place for a Sunday-afternoon book discussion group. As they arrive, take their seat, and join the conversation, the group’s members and facilitators exude so much happiness and enthusiasm that it’s hard not to want to chime in, especially when the book being discussed most recently was Little House on the Prairie. Let me introduce you to the Next Chapter Book Club! 

Next Chapter Book Club members at Urban Coffee, courtesy of Jillian Ober

Next Chapter Book Club members at Urban Coffee, courtesy of Jillian Ober

The Next Chapter Book Club (NCBC) is a community-based literacy and social program that provides adolescents and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities with the chance to be members of a book discussion group. It was established in 2002 by Dr. Thomas Fish and his colleagues at The Ohio State University Nisonger Center, an interdisciplinary program that promotes the meaningful participation of people with disabilities in communities through education, service and research. Today, there are more than 250 NCBC clubs in 120 cities worldwide, with over 20 groups meeting in the greater Columbus area. 

Five to eight members with a wide range of reading skills and abilities belong to each NCBC group. For one hour each week, club members meet with two volunteer facilitators in a local bookstore or café to read aloud from and talk about a book of their choice. Because the same people purposefully gather in a neighborhood setting every week, the program provides members with opportunities to develop friendships, foster lifelong learning and enjoy being out in the community. 

Club members choose the book they want to read and how they would like to structure their club. They also select and order their own refreshments when they get together. In Franklin County, there is no cost to join an NCBC group. 

NCBC started by offering its members copies of classic stories adapted to the third or fourth grade reading level, like Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Treasure Island and Peter Pan. Then, the list expanded to include books that have not been adapted, such as Charlotte’s Web, The Boxcar Children, and selected books in series like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson & The Olympians, and The Hunger Games. The Columbus NCBC operates its own lending library of about 125 titles, listed here on Goodreads. Club members can borrow a copy of a book for however long it takes to read it. 

After reading plenty of books where the protagonist was either a child or an animal, participants expressed interest in reading a book about adult life that was written in simple language. NCBC tried to find hi-lo (high interest-low reading level) books whose content was geared towards adults, but discovered that there was a void in the current market for this particular population. In 2012, NCBC received a grant from The Columbus Foundation to create a book that would be written specifically with adults with developmental disabilities in mind. NCBC conducted focus groups on what members wanted to read about and discovered that relationships and emotions were the most popular subjects.  The result was Lucky Dogs, Lost Hats, and Dating Don’ts: Hi-Lo Stories about Real Life, written by Thomas Fish and Jillian Ober and published by Woodbine House.  This collection of hi-lo short stories for people with intellectual disabilities or other learning challenges presents tales about roommate difficulties, bad hair days, how to find a girlfriend and wanting a pet.  A set of questions at the end of each story encourages discussion and further self-reflection. NCBC will be celebrating the publication of Lucky Dogs, Lost Hats, and Dating Don’ts on Wednesday, March 26 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm in Ohio State’s Hale Hall. At the event for interested members of NCBC clubs and the Ohio State and Columbus communities, readers will take turns sharing a few lines from the book. 

Being an NCBC facilitator sounds like it’s as rewarding as being a member. While one facilitator focuses primarily on literacy activities during club meetings, the other encourages social interaction within the group. Facilitators rely on activities to increase comprehension (relating reading to personal stories), vocabulary (learning to use a dictionary or making an easy crossword puzzle), phonemic awareness (rhyming games), and participation and fluency (engaging nonreaders through the illustrations). They also employ strategies that encourage social interaction (discovering things in common) and increase community inclusion (teaching members how to use their local library). Tammy and Becky, the facilitators of the Urban Coffee group, do a terrific job engaging the club’s members in their discussions. 

While the Columbus NCBC groups meet at places like Barnes & Noble, Panera Bread and Starbucks, 12 NCBC clubs in other cities have expanded into libraries. In February 2012, the Association for Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA), a division of the American Library Association, offered a webinar titled “Next Chapter Book Club: An Innovative and Viable Approach to Meeting the Literacy Needs of Adolescents and Adults with Developmental Disabilities.” This webinar described the NCBC model, how it has been implemented by the Scotch Plains Public Library in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, and the benefits of including people with developmental disabilities in library programming. 

Now, NCBC has inspired another initiative for adults and adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Jot It Down, a writing club that follows the NCBC model, promotes social interaction and community inclusion for its members. Members work individually and collaboratively to write stories, poems, letters, MadLibs and other projects. 

Next Chapter Book Club: A Model Community Literacy Program for People with Intellectual Disabilities, by Tom Fish and Paula Rabidoux, with Jillian Ober and Vicki L.W. Graff, describes how the program works; offers insight to prospective or current members about what to expect and how to make the most of the experience; provides information to potential volunteers about facilitating a club; and shares a step-by-step guide for active facilitators to manage the group. 

If you’re interested in learning more about NCBC, check out its feature under “Community Spotlight” of the Community Spirit section on page 18 of the April 2014 issue of Woman’s Day.  NCBC also maintains a Facebook page and a Twitter account. 

Those interested in volunteering for NCBC complete three steps. First, they visit a club to get a feel for what it is like and what the facilitator does. Then, they participate in a 75-minute to 1 ½ hour training session at the Nisonger Center, scheduled around their availability, that explains NCBC and how to facilitate discussion during club meetings. Finally, potential volunteers are fingerprinted at their county Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities before being placed with a group. To join NCBC as a member or volunteer facilitator, or if you would like to operate a program in your community, contact Jillian Ober, program manager at the Nisonger Center. More information is available at http://nisonger.osu.edu/ncbc.

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