Meet the Creators of KenCrest’s Book Club


During the pandemic, Amanda and her Community Connection Coach Michele joined a book club to find friendship and community.

By Sydney Kerelo

For the past five years, Amanda and her Community Connection Coach Michele Szumila felt disconnected from KenCrest’s community until they joined the aptly named Book Club.

However, this Book Club is unlike any other. The Book Club hosts virtual events every Thursday to discuss the latest book, perform craft activities, birthday celebrations, and even dance parties.

“At the start of the pandemic, Amanda and I didn’t know a lot of other KenCrest individuals,” says Szumila. “But, since we joined the Book Club, that’s changed, it’s become like a family, and it’s a great opportunity to build relationships.”

Since its start more than two years ago, the Book Club has ignited many friendships, including that of Amanda and Eddie. Eddie, like Amanda, participates in KenCrest’s Community-Based Services program, and regularly attends outings, like bowling or art in the park. Eddie and Amanda work closely together to bring the book club to life every week. After each meeting, they stay online with Szumila to discuss plans for the following weeks.

But while the dynamic duo has worked together for years, they recently met in person for the first time. Both were smiling at Turning Point brunch, ecstatic about finally meeting in person.

“I didn’t know he was that tall,” laughs Amanda as she recalls seeing Eddie in person.

Eddie isn’t the only Book Club member Amanda and Michele have met in person. Previously, they met Stephen and his champion Josh at a local library and took a walk with Liv and her champion Annette.

“We haven’t done the book club as a big group in person yet because we are still taking necessary COVID-19 precautions, but we have added a few activities into our book club to make it more fun,” says Szumila.

Eddie and Amanda having brunch together at the Turning Point // photo courtesy of Michele Szumila.

Book Club always begins with a coffee talk so everyone can check in with each other. Then the conversation will ease into a reading or a party, depending on the day.

At the beginning of the pandemic, an Assistant Director at the Agency started the group to connect during an uncertain time. But as the days progressed and the weeks turned to years, the Book Club shifted from a place to connect and read together to an activities club (with some reading).

The club has hosted special occasion bingo, birthday parties, themed dress-up days, and even a short dance party in every session.

“Our most recent event was our New Year’s Eve party, where everybody dresses up in a fancy outfit,” says Szumila. “We also started a group sing-along; everyone gets the lyrics out, and then we sing karaoke-style to whatever song.”

But it’s not all fun and games. Every month, the group works together collectively to suggest books to read, and they vote on their favorite ones. So far, a few books they’ve read are Hocus Pocus, Nancy Drewand even the Hunger Games. The group has read more than eight books since the start.

“The Book Club is a blessing because when Amanda and I got together more than four years ago, we didn’t know a lot of other individuals at KenCrest,” says Szumila. “So it has been a great opportunity to build those relationships.”

Interested in joining KenCrest’s Community-Based Services program or our Virtual Classes? Learn more below!