“Book Club is a place where we share, socialize, laugh, help each other understand, and make personal connections,” says Laurie MacGillivray, Ph.D., Ed.D. She is invested in building community and literacy connections with women who are living at Renewal Place, a transitional housing program for women who are homeless, addicted, and have children. Renewal Place is a program of the Salvation Army.
The Renewal House Book Club model offers women at Renewal Place an opportunity to experience and share the pleasure of reading with each other. It is also part of a qualitative research project to understand literacy in the context of family homelessness and families that are precariously housed.
The group has read House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and Mama Makes Up Her Mind, by Bailey White. To start, Laurie asks the women to read the first fifteen pages of the assigned book. After the women have completed the reading, they meet together to discuss. The discussion group always starts with the question: “So what did you think?” and the group progresses from there. The women who are participating in the group have expressed their own investment in the research. Laurie reports that they see the group as an ongoing relationship in which everyone is participating to support each other and the research.
Laurie’s goal was to make sure that Book Club was not seen as an assignment, or a task, but as a meaningful activity. While there is an expectation that women will show up to the group, Laurie explains that there is the hope that women will feel a sense of pride. Laurie offers that the group provides a sense of support and a place where the women's opinions matter.
The women share that they enjoy helping each other to understand the reading and comparing their own lives to the books they read. They are excited to talk about the parts of the book they love the most. The women laugh, get involved, and are open. The women tell Laurie: “We are like Oprah’s Book Club.” They celebrate each other as readers.
Laurie selects books for the group based on readability and meaning. “I found myself looking for books about women that women could connect to easily,” says Laurie. The group has plans to choose their own books in the future. Laurie’s hope is that the Book Club will sustain itself after she has gone. “I would love Renewal Place to move on without me,” says Laurie. She sees Renewal Place as fertile ground for this kind of literacy program. “Sharon Cash, Program Director of Renewal Place is amazing. She has created a space for us to talk about books in the middle of lives in transition from complex situations. Often, people don’t feel that service providers can make space for this, especially in emergency shelters,” says Laurie.
Laurie’s goal is to be able to educate teachers in the school systems about families who have been marginalized. “Families from different backgrounds have knowledge that many teachers do not know how to make sense of. Teachers are thirsty for information and I want to help inform teachers to build awareness and effectiveness,” says Laurie. She asks women what they want from their children’s teachers. Their responses include: the desire for communication; choice; and meaning in their lives.
Laurie’s research is supported by her colleagues, Amy Ardell and Margaret Curwen, from Chapman University. Laurie studies and teaches courses on literacy instruction in elementary school at the College of Education at The University of Memphis. The three plan to co-author journal articles about the impact of this program.
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