Darien resident Helene Collins has coupled her lifelong love of reading with her quest to achieve Girl Scouts' highest honor, the Gold Award, by forming a weekly book group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The group, Book Buddies, was launched by Collins this summer after researching a similar program in Greenwich called the Next Chapter Book Club, and is geared toward bringing meaningful books into discussions that are appropriate for individuals with special needs.
Each week, more than a dozen participants who live in group homes in Darien and New Canaan run by STAR Inc., Lighting the Way join Collins to read two or more short stories from the collection. She created a syllabus of appropriate discussion topics about each story to enhance the conversation and allow the participants to become actively engaged with the message of the story and share their opinions and reflections.
Paying for the project out of her own savings from baby-sitting and birthday gifts, Collins enlisted the help of Barrett Bookstore in the Noroton Heights Shopping Center and the Darien Library for the use of space for the program, according to a news release.
"Everybody gets something out of it," Collins said. "I am really glad that I picked this project -- I have always loved books and now I can share that with some wonderful new friends each week."
At the end of the project, Collins, who has been a Girl Scout for 11 years since the age of 5, will present her project to a board for ultimate approval and Gold Award recognition. Even prior to receiving her award, however, Collins said she is honored "to be able to work with people with disabilities to create a program that is hopefully sustainable and impactful in their lives."
Kari Ryan, director of day services at STAR, said, "Our STAR participants are giving Helene and her Book Buddies program rave reviews. For a young person to dedicate her time and personal resources to improving the lives of others in the community is truly inspirational and worthy of recognition. Her lively book discussions help our people connect with real-life issues and encourages them to share their feelings and independent thinking that are conducive to greater learning."
Sheila Daley, owner of Barrett Bookstore, said, "When Helene contacted me I admired her effort, originality and the initiative she took to help others. Having had a brother who was disabled, I know how important these individual efforts are to improve lives. So, in my small way, I am happy to help and host this enthusiastic group."
Book Buddies will meet in the Darien Library Conference Room from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5, 19 and 26.
For information, contact Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org.