Claire loves the classics, Milile’s favorite is romance novels, Diane prefers reading technology, Rosalie isn’t even a reader, yet they all gather twice a week for Highgate at Bellingham’s book club.
“It’s one of the most successful things we’ve done,” says Bellingham’s Life Enhancement Coordinator, Christal Seitz, who has a degree in English literature and is a self-described “book nerd.” “It’s formed this camaraderie among the residents. It’s become such a hit that we added a second day every week.”
Book clubs are popular among Highgate communities. Not only can books transport us to places we’ve never been and take us on great adventures, but book clubs are also a great way to meet new friends or keep in touch with old ones.
“I have seen new friendships form and current friendships evolve,” says Kimberley Jimenez, the Life Enhancement Coordinator at Highgate at Temecula.
“It gives us something to look forward to, and it gives us a great social platform since there are many readers in the community.”
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at Bellingham and Temecula’s book clubs, how they support Highgate’s Purposeful Living philosophy, and what our residents are reading.
Activities Driven by Residents
As the coordinator for Life Enhancement Programming — commonly known as the activities program at other senior living communities — Seitz’s job isn’t to plan activities and programs that keep residents busy. Her job is to get to know each resident’s life story and to build an ever-evolving Life Enhancement Program that empowers them to live a life of purpose each day.
When she realized there were two retired librarians and a bunch of big readers among her residents, she knew it was time to revive the book club.
Some residents weren’t sure they could participate, though. For example, one resident is sight-challenged. “Every time we’re doing something, she says she’d love to come but can’t because she can’t see,” Seitz says. “I was like, I promise you: We can adapt! And she’s been loving the book club.”
Seitz calls it a no-homework book club because the group gathers ’round while Seitz reads the book out loud. “We read together. We pause and discuss. People bring questions. Then we're done, and there's no homework to take, and we just meet for the next section,” she says. “It’s amazing how sweet and understanding everyone is with everyone else’s level of comprehension.”
The book club attracts between 8 and 12 residents each session —
“I’ve had to hop up and grab extra chairs a couple times,” Seitz says. They’re currently reading The Martian by Andy Weir. When they finish the book, they’ll have a special movie night where they watch the movie.
Highgate at Bellingham not only has a book club, there’s also a lending library. “I have a special Highgate Lending Library stamp,” Seitz says. “It’s really fun. Residents will help to check in new books, and residents can take them at their whim.” Seitz has also taken residents on outings to visit Bellingham’s Little Free Libraries. They take some from the community’s lending library and distribute them to the Little Free Libraries and pick up a few new books to bring home.
Creating Purpose and Friendships
There are many benefits of reading for seniors. Reading has been linked to reduced stress, increased mental stimulation, and even improved memory. Highgate team members also see how book clubs can help develop a sense of purpose in residents’ lives and can nurture friendships among residents.
“Our philosophy is living a life of purpose and having them continue to build bonds and relationships and friendships,” says Jimenez, who started the Temecula book club a few months ago. “We have avid book readers, and this brings them together to socialize more. I’ve noticed a big change. It has them talking about the characters. It’s funny when they have opposing positions.”
Seitz sees the same thing in her community: “It’s great when people see the same faces coming again and again. One of my favorite things I've seen coming out is folks leaving talking about the book — what’s going to happen next? Making predictions for the plot line. Carrying on their discussion. I’ve even heard people talking about the book at lunch.”
Residents’ Favorites Books and Authors
Every month, Temecula resident, Jim, orders 10 James Patterson books — and reads all 10 in a months’ time.
Murder mysteries, suspense, and thrillers are big hits at Highgate at Temecula. Favorite books include Wish You Well by David Baldacci and Beneath Devil’s Bridge by Laura Ann White, and residents love reading anything by Stephen King and Gillian Flynn. They’ve also read The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, which they were not fans of.
“To them, what makes a good book is it being well-written, descriptive, good character development and interesting characters, a story and plot with depth, and appropriate verbiage,” Jimenez says. “No cussing or harsh words.
It’s the opposite at Bellingham, where Seitz says the residents appreciate books with the occasional swear word like The Martian, which opens with a curse word. “I think the residents appreciate that it’s a book written for adults,” she says. “They can use dirty words. I’m not contaminating the minds of youth. The residents are all for that. So far, they’ve found it funny.”
Seitz’s residents also love reading anything and everything by Debbie Macomber, books that deepen their spiritual practices, and the newspaper.
One of her residents, Lonnie, particularly loves reading to memory care residents.
“Lonnie has had some amazing sessions reading with our Cottage residents and has really made connections and had great conversations with folks who she probably would never have met otherwise,” Seitz says. “She’s not only reading interesting stories, but also serving our community, helping others, and meeting new people.”
To participate in the next book club or to just see the community for yourself, schedule a tour today.