Mitzvot from the heart ­— Alyson Neiner, United Hebrew Congregation

Alyson Neiner (at right) with members of her book group, which became one focus for her bat mitzvah project.

A student at Whitfield School, Alyson Neiner is the daughter of Leesa and Doug Neiner of Chesterfield. She has been involved with a very special book club for over three years. This book club is through the St. Louis Arc, a United Way agency that provides support and services to adults and children with developmental and intellectual disabilities, and their families, throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area.

Alyson decided to dedicate her mitzvah project to her work with the book club. Alyson wrote an essay about the experience for a class assignment, an excerpt of which follows:

“My book club is not your average book club. We do not read books like ‘Twilight’ or ‘Harry Potter.’ I also do not read with kids my age, or a little bit older than me. My book club is with mentally challenged adults. I have been in the book club for three years.

“We have read books that I might not have picked off the shelf like: ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ ‘Wizards of Waverly Place,’ and the ‘High School Musical’ books.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

Here is how it works: In the beginning of the year, we all choose books that we might like. We then vote on the books, to where it comes down to two. Then we ask a member to close their eyes and point to a book. That is the book we will read. We meet at Borders every Thursday night, from seven to eight o’clock. It usually starts in late October, and ends around the middle of March.

“This year, after book club ended, we decided to keep it going until we finished the book. Right now, we are reading the book ‘Hatchet,’ by Gary Paulsen. The members really seem to like the book. When book club ended, in March, we were all disappointed until someone said we should continue over the next couple months. We said that we would do it at one of the ladies’ houses. We now meet on Monday nights.

“Aside from the book club, we have become great friends. We go out for ice cream, go bowling, and watch movies together. Also, this past spring, my mom and I went to a sheltered workshop, called Valley Industries. We volunteered there, because two of the ladies in our book club work there. I remember when my mom and I were walking down to the bathroom to wash our hands, we saw the two ladies behind us. There was a sign on the bathroom door that said, ‘No food or drink in the restroom, please.’ We heard them sounding out the words and reading the sign. When they came in, they both said, ‘We couldn’t have read that if we weren’t in the book club.’ I almost cried.

“I think that being in the book club has done a lot for me. I have learned that everyone has something to offer and that everyone is beautiful on the inside. Also, I have made a ton of new friends. No, I am not afraid that I will be seen in public with them. Instead, I am proud to know that I am making a difference in these peoples’ lives. That makes me so happy. That is why my book club, is the most important group to me.”