This club’s members are no different from the millions of people who gather regularly in someone’s living room, a local library, favorite bookstore or coffee shop, discussing and gossiping about events and characters in fiction. Members share three things: a love of reading, a strong friendship and each has a disability.
What makes this club distinct is it now has its own day dedicated to the group. Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui proclaimed Wednesday as Full Life Next Chapter Book Club Day in Hawaii in recognition of the club’s success and one-year anniversary. The proclamation, presented by the governor’s representative Barbara Dalton, was celebrated during a joyous ceremony attended by club members and their families, Full Life staff and board members, as well as state and county officials.
Full Life is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that serves adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities through personal assistance, adult day health, respite, employment, and other person-centered services. It assists in the empowerment of people with disabilities, enabling them to achieve and enjoy a self-determined quality of life.
The Full Life Next Chapter Book Club is among more than 250 affiliated chapters across the U.S., Canada and Europe. Since starting the first Hawaii chapter a year ago, Full Life has demonstrated the program’s success. Facilitated by Barbara Hoist, the eight-member group meets for an hour Wednesday afternoons at the Kona Coast Shopping Center. There are just two requirements to participate in this free activity: one must be 17 or older and have a developmental and intellectual disability.
The club decides what it reads, and so far, its members have chosen the classics, such as “The Secret Garden” and “Arabian Nights.” Through weekly reading assignments and group discussions, the club helps to increase the participants’ reading comprehension and communication abilities while providing a social outlet to build friendships and interpersonal skills. While group members gain skills, that’s not the focus. Fun is, Hoist said.
What happens when a Full Life participant reads a book in the company of others? Stone Wolfsong, Full Life executive director, said they enter its world together, but share different perspectives and develop more meaningful connections. Oftentimes, the participants talk about how the content relates to their own lives and the characters differ from people in Hawaii. There are even inside jokes. One participant unexpectedly revealed a plastic toy sword during discussion about the finer points of “King Arthur” and the group gleefully declared it Excalibur.
Waimea resident Jennifer Poblano, 32, joined the club because she enjoys reading and thinks its fun to talk about what she’s read. The club is currently reading “Black Beauty,” which makes her happy because she likes horses. The best part of the club, she added, is it’s a fun way to get together with friends.
This club may be social, but it’s also serious. Members dedicate hours over many weeks to get to the last page — an accomplishment celebrated with a party, Hoist said.
“The book club provides a fresh approach to helping people with disabilities integrate into society,” Wolfsong said. “Through dynamic enrichment opportunities, this program empowers our clients and inspires those around them. As community members see participants engage in activities that we all do, we’re able to raise awareness about how people with disabilities are not that different from you and me.”
Wolfsong said participants get to keep the books and donations toward purchasing hardcovers or paperbacks are appreciated. She estimated it costs about $150 to buy a round of books.
The club has become so popular that Full Life is looking for another facilitator willing to voluntarily lead the group for at least a year. An ideal candidate would be someone who has a passion for books and a knack for people. Those interested must first undergo a two-hour training, Wolfsong said.
To get involved, donate or for more information, call Full Life at 322-9333 or visit fulllifehawaii.org.