I was thrilled to hear about President Obama signing the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (a bill that had bipartisan support) to increase funding for national service programs like AmeriCorps, Peace Corps or VISTA. This follows in the footsteps of what Obama managed to do with his campaign, galvanize scores of young adults to believe that change is possible. What better way to manifest change than by getting your hands dirty (sometimes literally) and working for it with your total energy?
A large number of teens and young adults are idealistic, wanting to make a difference, but not knowing how. Don’t forget that we, youth services librarians, want to encourage our teens to become fully invested in their community, even after they outgrow the need for our services. Plus, we want them to continue to use the public library as adults. How better can we get them to understand the vital role the library plays then to get them directly involved in community service? We can help to engage them, by encouraging them to consider service as a legitimate option through displays, like alternatives to college/gap year possibilities, or outreach programs, like having AmeriCorps or other volunteers speak to teen groups about volunteering.
Teens and young adults want to serve. In March 2009, AmeriCorps received 17,038 applications, nearly triple the number received in March 2008! As a former AmeriCorps volunteer myself, I recommend the program to virtually all the young adults that I know. It was a fantastic opportunity for me, one that I enjoyed immensely. It gave me a little breathing room after college, money toward paying down student loan debt and I got to serve the community. AmeriCorps is a great fit for those, like me, who want to become involved in the community in an in-depth, meaningful way but must also pay bills, particularly student loans. (Service usually entitles you to defer paying student loans.)
I worked for about a year for Habitat for Humanity, in rural Georgia, building houses for, and alongside of, families in need of decent housing. I have countless fond memories of working with other volunteers and of being inspired by the families that we were impacting. I have one friend who maintained trails on Mount Rainer. One preformed outreach to homeless addicts. Another worked with students in schools. There are countless opportunities that can fit just about every personality.
As librarians we can help teens to channel their desire to see change into constructive and worthwhile opportunities for themselves and the community. It is a way to work in your own community or travel to a new community. Traveling to a new site can broaden your very definition of what a community is and means, taking your understanding of community from a local to a national construct.
And what about the younger teens, who are not eligible for this type of service? How can we engage them? A few of my ideas include: create a teen volunteer program at the library. Ask teens to help with programs for younger children. Ask teens to help with Summer Reading Programs. Or ask teens to come up with ideas for community outreach that they could perform at the public library.
Any other ideas on how we can encourage teen and young adults to become involved in their community? How about the younger teens?