Mary Jane Brown Home resident Dorothy Williamson (left) shares a laugh with Jenna Schelhaas during one of Schelhaas’ Sunday night Senior Book Club sessions in Luverne.Luverne High School Senior Jenna Schelhaas (center) encourages all participants at her Senior Book Club to share personal experiences before reading a short story. Pictured from left are Gladys Hemme, Nina Eernisse, Dorothy Williamson, Schelhaas, Janice Sandbulte and Barb Bot.Jenna Schelhaas reads a short story from “A Sixth Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul” during one of her Sunday night Senior Book Club sessions.Using her smart phone, Jenna Schelhaas looks up information during a Sunday evening Senior Book Club discussion. The book club takes place at the Mary Jane Brown Home, and while anyone can attend, it is mainly attended by MJB residents.

Luverne student's creation of Senior Book Club leads to life-changing experience

A trip to Washington, D.C., for last summer’s national Family, Career and Community Leaders of America conference inspired Jenna Schelhaas, a current senior at Luverne High School, to start a project that would make a positive impact on someone’s life.

What the 18-year-old didn’t know was how developing the Senior Book Club would affect her.

For the past three months, Schelhaas spends her Sunday evenings at the Mary Jane Brown Home in Luverne reading short stories and leading discussions with as many as eight residents.

The book club is a direct result of the FCCLA’s community service program.

“It’s a good way to give back to the community,” she said. “A lot of people see giving to the community as giving money, but some people just want your time.”

A series of personal experiences led to Schelhaas’ development of the club.

One experience occurred in elementary school as a young Schelhaas learned to read.

“I have always really struggled with reading especially reading out loud,” she said.

One-on-one work with instructors improved Schelhaas’ reading abilities, but the introduction to “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” in fourth grade and later the Percy Jackson and the Olympian series in sixth grade turned Schelhaas into an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction books outside the classroom.

“The books are so great,” she said. “I read the first one in two days. After that I just kind of took off.”

As a high schooler, Schelhaas saw a slice of life at an assisted living center during her grandmother’s brief stay. The regular visits revealed her grandmother had nothing in common with the other residents and often spent time alone.

“She just sat in her room and watched TV,” Schelhaas said.

The final spark to the Senior Book Club’s start came after the trip to our nation’s capital. Schelhaas began working with Kathy Hansen, MJB’s activities director.

Schelhaas explained to Hansen her search for a FCCLA project went beyond fundraising.

“I wanted to actively build a relationship with someone over a continuous amount of time,” she said.

Through Hansen, Schelhaas learned as people age, eyesight diminishes along with their ability to focus and remember a book’s storyline. Many MJB residents are avid book lovers like Schelhaas, but age has limited their ability to read books on their own. Schelhaas turned to short stories for her weekly book club sessions.

She often reads chapters from the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. Her members easily relate to the real-life stories and their talks have involved the former dancehall in Hardwick, growing up in the 1940s and piano playing.

“I have gained a lot of life lessons from them by talking to them about things that they like — things that I should try,” Schelhaas said.

Schelhaas plans to lead the Senior Book Club sessions weekly until May 2016, when she graduates from high school. In the meantime, she’s seeking someone to take over reading for residents before she leaves her Hardwick home for college.

She cautions that the Senior Book Club can be life-changing.

“It’s a personal experience with someone that is not only going to change just their lives, it’s going to change your life at the same time,” Schelhaas said.

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