San Diego high school student starts book club in honor of her grandmother to help seniors battling dementia

Posted at 6:02 PM, Nov 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-11 21:02:46-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Westview High School senior Jessica Ong came to the U.S. from Thailand at age 7, and if you listen to her read a book, it's hard to believe reading didn't come easily to her.

“I learned Thai before I learned English and so I kind of had that experience that my grandma has of trying to find words and it's not coming out the way I want it to,” says Jessica.

Jessica's grandmother, who lives in Thailand, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about two years ago.

“That's why I wanted to read with her because the words were already on the page and we could experience that together.”

The seed that started as reading with her Grandma Yai blossomed into the San Diego Seniors Book Club.

“That was kind of the moment of inspiration where I knew that I needed to do something about it because waiting around, these seniors don't have a lot of time to be waiting around.”

More than 100 seniors, some fighting dementia, have benefitted from the club inspired by Jessica's grandmother. That includes seniors at the Ed Brown Center for Active Adults in Rancho Bernardo.

Jessica says one thing she never expected is how much the discussions would help her mind.

“I walk out of the sessions having my mind completely filled. I learn so much about history," she said. "I've learned about '70s cannabis culture and like homophobia in the '80s, things that I've never thought about before.”

ABC 10News anchor Virginia Cha met Jessica at the Rancho Peñasquitos Library.

“I live around here and I come here almost every day,” she told me.

It’s a place where she can look at the books the seniors choose to read as part of her club which is both in-person and virtual.

When asked if her grandmother understands what Jessica is doing, she answered, “I don't think so, but I think she knows that in the stuff I do, I love her and I'm trying to show her through my actions.”

Actions that speak louder than words.

“I hope that I can just help them feel supported and help them feel like they have a friend,” Ong said.

Jessica not only started the San Diego Seniors Book Club, she also founded a non-profit called Cards4Kindness, also inspired by her grandmother after Jessica started writing to her.

For her dedication to stimulating the minds of seniors, ABC10News and Lead San Diego are proud to select Jessica Ong as the 10News Leadership Award winner for the month of November.

To nominate someone for the 10News Leadership Award, visit