About Us

“Next Chapter Book Club nurtures an enjoyment of books coupled with the chance to socialize in a public setting for a population that is often excluded from such opportunities.”

Michelle Willis, Library Director of New Jersey-based Scotch Plains Public Library, a NCBC Affiliate since 2009.

Did you know?

95% of those surveyed reported making new friendships!

Strategic Vision

Accelerated Growth

The United States has approximately 3,000 counties and 17,000 public libraries – and we want in every one of them by 2026. Ambitious? Absolutely! But many libraries are already offering Next Chapter Book Club to their patrons with disabilities and we are encouraged by this October 2014 article from the Public Library Association, titled: Reaching Out: Library Services to the Developmentally Disabled. It states:

“Like everyone, the developmentally disabled community wants a safe place to continue learning, sharing, and growing intellectually throughout their lives. The public library is in a unique position to be that place, and the rewards will be great for the whole community.”

Additionally, many county social service agencies have embraced the NCBC program as a way to fulfill their mandate to offer inclusive, community-based programming to the clients they serve.

Greater Collaboration

We want to connect the dots between public libraries, social service agencies and parent groups. Each of them values community inclusion, lifelong learning and greater independence for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Next Chapter Book Club is a low-cost / high impact vehicle for achieving that and is easy to launch and sustain – particularly in collaboration with multiple partners who share responsibilities.

Increased Capacity

Expansion on the scale that we are envisioning will require additional resources. As we secure the necessary funding, we plan to place personnel in each state to drive growth and deliver training and support to NCBC Affiliates.

Creative Program Development

Our clubs provide a natural way to expose members to books that promote a greater understanding of self-advocacy, employment, cultural engagement and other quality-of-life issues. We plan to test the feasibility of embedding modules into our existing NCBC model that offer a fun way to engage club members in meaningful discussions about these important topics.

International Expansion

Next Chapter Book Club is already operating in Canada and Europe. We plan to cultivate more international opportunities and create better ways to train and support NCBC Affiliates outside of the United States.

Did you know?

25%of those surveyed reported being more comfortable in the community since joining NCBC!

Program Description

NCBC is committed to providing weekly opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to read, learn and make friends in a relaxed, community setting. The premise is simple. A group of four to eight people with IDD, along with two trained facilitators, gather weekly or bi-weekly for one-hour in a local public library, bookstore, coffee shop, café, or similar public establishment to read aloud and discuss a book. Anyone can participate, whatever their reading or ability level. NCBC members range from those who read proficiently to those who cannot read at all.

NCBC provides a unique opportunity for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to experience community inclusion, social connectedness, life-long learning, self-determination and self-advocacy. The NCBC meetings are purposeful gatherings of the same people on a regular basis. Members, as a group, determine all aspects of their participation in NCBC meetings (i.e. book selection) and are encouraged to express their opinions, wants, and needs.

NCBC is not a traditional reading class or tutoring program. Although members may (and often do) improve literacy skills, the focus is on reading-to-learn, not learning-to-read. Equally important elements of the program are social interaction and community inclusion. The goal of NCBC is for members to interact more frequently, and in new ways with reading materials, with each other, and with the community around them. Next Chapter Book Club, through a network of NCBC Affiliates, offers community-based book clubs for adolescents and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Clubs are comprised of four to eight members and two volunteer facilitators who are trained to engage readers of all levels – including those who cannot read at all.

Did you know?

80%of those surveyed reported gaining more self - advocacy skills!

History

Next Chapter Book Club (NCBC) was created in 2002 by Dr. Thomas Fish, the Director of Social Work at The Ohio State University’s Nisonger Center for Excellence in Disabilities. His intention was to launch and support a handful of clubs in and around Central Ohio that offered a fun way for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to actively participate in their communities. But in the years that followed, an organic process – fueled primarily by social media – took the model far beyond the boundaries of the Buckeye State. In 2011, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization named “Chapters Ahead” was created to more strategically manage the expansion of Next Chapter Book Club.

Did you know?

95%of those surveyed reported improved reading skills

Mission Statement

The mission of Next Chapter Book Club is to provide meaningful opportunities for lifelong-learning, social connections and authentic community inclusion for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities through weekly or bi-weekly community-based book club meetings that include readers of all skill levels.

Staff

Desi Strickland

Executive Director

Graduating with a Sociology degree from the University of Hawaii, Desi has always gravitated towards helping, teaching, and learning about others. Desi has had various internships and job opportunities over her blossoming career that have molded her into the driven, caring, compassionate businesswoman she is today. Desi has experienced life-altering work-place opportunities like guiding and supporting middle school ESL students as they transitioned to a new normal while receiving a formal education. In college,  she was also chosen out of many applicants to be a Resident Assistant who led educational programs, planned community activities, and aided three dorms with any instructive, social, or health-related needs.  On university breaks, Desi was the Assistant Director of a summer camp that provided services to adolescents with disabilities. While holding the Assistant Director's title, Desi completed two study abroad programs in Seville, Spain, and London, England. She also worked at a supporting living agency as both a Direct Support Professional, assisting adults with meaningful daily living tasks and community engagement, and an administrative intern, learning the valuable skills necessary to run and engage in a thriving business environment. After graduating, Desi took on a Manager of Quality position at a day program for adults with disabilities, serving 250 individuals and 75 staff. After about two years, she was asked to make roots at one of the company’s central locations to be the Site Director. After eleven years in the field, Desi has enjoyed working alongside and supporting people of all backgrounds, disabilities, and mental health diagnoses. Desi finds the work done at the Next Chapter Book Club to be very fulfilling and thinks it a pleasure to watch the members further their learning and social development.  In her spare time, you can find Desi singing and dancing with her dog or diving into the latest TV series.

Lyna Smith

Consultant

Lyna fields inquiries from prospective members, volunteers and Affiliates.  In addition, she on-boards Affiliates and provides administrative support.  She has been involved with Next Chapter Book Club since its inception.  Lyna’s career has focused on working with people with disabilities.  She served as Director of Speech and OT Services at the Columbus Speech & Hearing Center for 22 years.  Prior to that, she was employed for nine years at The Ohio State University Nisonger Center as their Clinic Coordinator.  She is a graduate of the University of Akron with a Master’s in Speech Pathology.  Besides her family, she enjoys mule riding through mountains and playing in ocean waves.

Board of Directors

Thomas Fish

President

Dr. Tom Fish is the founder of the Next Chapter Book Club. He also was part of a team that developed the Aspirations program at The Ohio State University which was one of the first social/ vocational support programs for young adults with high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Dr. Fish has been a leader in the field of sibling support and advocacy. He established the first adult sibling conference of its kind in the country and was a founding member of both Ohio SIBS and the national Sibling Leadership Network. Dr. Fish was a recipient of a Mary Switzer Research Fellowship from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research for his work on attitudes of families of youth with disabilities toward transition from school to adult life. Dr. Fish is a fellow of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, former treasurer of the Ohio APSE Board, and serves as an adviser to the Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio (DSACO). He teaches at The Ohio State College of Social Work and loves playing his ukulele.  He also thinks his jokes are funny.

Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith’s career path has been concentrated in the field of developmental disabilities. Amanda is the Chief Services Officer at ARC Industries, Inc. where she is responsible to oversee all programs and lines of service for the organization, in support of more than 1,750 individuals throughout Central Ohio. Amanda possesses nearly fifteen years of experience within the DD field and has been privileged to serve in additional leadership roles as VP of Programming and Strategic Partnerships for the Down Syndrome Association of Central Ohio, Executive Director at Learning Never Ends, LLC, Adjunct Faculty/Field Liaison for the Human Services Department at Columbus State Community College and Day Array Program Manager at the Association for the Developmentally Disabled.  Amanda completed her undergraduate studies in the field of Psychology at Capital University. Amanda enjoys spending time with her husband Tyease Sr., her son Tyease Jr. and her stepson Quincy. Amanda also enjoys reading, hiking, completing DIY projects and traveling. Amanda is passionate about improving the quality of life and experiences for individuals with disabilities and looks forward to supporting the continued growth and expansion of the Next Chapter Book Club and affiliated programs.

Crystal Lett

Crystal Lett was born and raised in Hilliard, Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University with a degree in political science, she worked as a sales and marketing consultant. Her desire to work hand-in-hand in her community drove her to leave her position in marketing and work as a case manager at North Central Mental Health. In that position, she worked to connect teens age 14-21 with essential care and services throughout Franklin County. Crystal left that position when her first-born son was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder and required consistent care. She then began managing a financial advisory firm and later a psychological practice.
Throughout her professional tenure, she has worked tirelessly as a community advocate – partnering with Senator Sherrod Brown to protect the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Crystal continued her policy work as an advocate for Save the Children Action Network, an organization committed to ensuring quality early childhood education and affordable childcare for all children. She is an advocate for paid family leave and works with the Women’s Public Policy Networks and PL+US to advance this policy.

The culmination of her policy work resulted in her run for the Ohio Senate, District 16 in the 2020 campaign cycle. Although her race did not result in a win, she lost by only 131 votes – challenging an eight-year incumbent, and moved the district 9 points from the previous election. Crystal passionately works to ensure that every person receives representation in the community and in their government. She continues to work on policy to support and lift up all Ohioans, but specifically people with disabilities, mental health disorders, and Ohio’s working families.

Dan Towslee

With over 25 years of executive experience focusing on operational management, supplier relationships and contracting, Mr. Towslee currently leads 3rd Party Risk Management for Nationwide Bank.  With a personal passion for diversity and inclusion, Mr. Towslee has been recognized by his peers for service on numerous non-profit Boards whose organizations focus on empowerment and development.  With his daughter Natalie, he has actively participated in a Next Chapter Book Club for over 10 years. 

Melissa Gourley

Upon graduating with my Masters of Social Work degree at The Ohio State University, I began my journey working within the Developmental Disabilities arena. I cofounded Upreach, LLC in 2003, a supported living agency supporting individuals to live independently within their communities. Today, Upreach, LLC serves 155 individuals and employees over 400 people working to positively impact individuals as they achieve personal daily goals. In 2006, I cofounded Learning Never Ends, LLC an adult day habilitation center assisting individuals with community engagement, continuing learning, wellness opportunities, and job development. Today, Learning Never Ends, LLC provides services to 250 individuals throughout five locations. 

I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to once again be a part of The Next Chapter Book Club. While in graduate school I was a LEAD student at the Nisonger Center under the guidance of Dr. Tom Fish. I had the great honor of assisting Dr. Fish with getting the NCBCs started, by developing training materials, interviewing volunteers, providing trainings, monitoring book clubs and delivering books and supplies. I was able to witness firsthand how impactful this program is for both the participants and the volunteers. I watched how nonreaders gained confidence and learned to read a few words at a time, to complete sentences. I watched true friendships being made, sometimes for the first time ever. I watched the communities embrace our population, where in the past they had often been feared. What this program has provided is phenomenal. Dr. Fish had an amazing vision, which he put into fruition, and I’m excited to continue his great work and be a part of its continuing growth and development.     

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