As she explains it, Leesa Neiner was looking for something meaningful that she and her daughter, Alyson, could get involved in.
“When my daughter was about 8 or 9 years old, we tried sports, we tried music, we tried everything and found we had talent for nothing. But I was like, we’re nice people so maybe there’s something out there for us,” said Neiner.
What Neiner and her daughter did find was a book club for mentally challenged adults organized by St. Louis Arc, a United Way agency.
The cover of Leesa Neiner’s book, ‘Kids Are Amazing.’ Cover art by Christine Gunn.
That was 13 years ago. Neiner reports that the book club is still going strong, with all of its five core members attending. While the location has changed — the group used to meet at Borders, which was liquidated in 2011 — members still gather weekly, from 7 to 8 p.m. most Thursday nights, at Barnes & Noble in Chesterfield.
“Between meetings, we talk on the phone, go out to lunch and celebrate everything together. We have become great friends,” said Neiner, 54, who facilitates the book club meetings. “We are all that much older now, but we are also that much closer.”
The Jewish Light featured the book group a couple of times, including in 2010 as part of Alyson Neiner’s mitzvah project. She stayed with the group until she left for college at the University of Iowa, where she is now a senior majoring in business.
Leesa Neiner says being part of the book group has made her and her daughter more patient. “This is an inspiring group of ladies,” she said. “They are high functioning, and all live at home with a parent or sibling. They are all so committed and dedicated.”
She also explained that it moved her to write and self-publish a children’s book, “Kids Are Amazing,” designed to help parents, teacher and caregivers start positive conversations with children of various skill levels. Each page of the short book features a picture of a child along with a question, such as, “What does it mean to be brave?” or “What does it mean to be a good friend?”
“I love listening to my nieces and nephews, so I approached my 9-year-old niece Kaylin (Parker) to help me create the book,” said Neiner. “We enlisted Christine Gunn to do the cover because she is a fantastic artist. She is one of the members of book club and has Down syndrome.”
The interactive book is very accessible, and a fun way to start conversations with children about positive character traits.
“Relatable children share what makes them feel special,” Neiner said, “then your child is invited to explore and talk about their own wonderful qualities.”
The soft-covered book sells for $10. For more information, or to order one, go to www.kidsareamazing.net.