In the district my library serves, teens are required to complete 36 community service hours to be eligible for graduation. As someone who loves community service, I thought this was a great idea when I first heard it. From the outside perspective, asking that the future leaders of our world, take the time to get their hands to work in improving the world they’ll inherit, seems great. From the inside, however, it is more than a notion to get young people to see this as some great opportunity rather than a burden they have hovering overhead.
Merely doing service, isn’t really learning much at all, and active interest in service to others isn’t something that is always built inside. When it really hits you, and you find yourself connecting with the service you do, however, it can become something you love and will never lose. For me, I know that my passion for service came from doing a lot of it with my grandmother, and then after her passing, participating in breast cancer events in her honor. In and after college, creating my own events and activities alone or with my sorority were also great ways to stay involved.
For years, our teen volunteer program consisted mainly of teens filling out an “application”, (really just an info sheet), and then us calling them whenever a children’s program was coming up that needed help, or asking them to come in and shelf-read. While these were good for our department, and a great help, they weren’t really very fulfilling experiences for teens themselves. Also, we were finding that we had more teens than we had volunteer needs.
So my question became, how do I instill that great sense of passion into the droves of teens who come into the library asking for service hour opportunities, and how can I do so while serving more than a couple teens at a time?
From there, the Me:U Teen Service Club was born.
Started in December of 2012, the club has become both a service club, but also so much more. It serves as a community forum for them, a teen advisory board, and sometimes just a great support system where teens who run in different circles can come together for common goals.
1 hour meetings on Tuesday afternoons.
I do keep a notebook where I record attendance (I don’t take roll, I just jot down who was there).
I also jot down notes during the meetings, where ideas that they may brush over, I can come back to and get them to really flesh out.
While the overall climate of the meetings are casual, I also try and incorporate some parliamentary procedures, such as how to make a motion and vote, or how to determine a quorum. Presenting those little tips informally seems to stick with this particular group of teens better, but in the future, another group of teens may prefer a little more structure.
To build in leadership experience, we have in the past held elections for offices. Those positions come with responsibility including being spokespersons when any media contacts the library about an upcoming Service Club event, and being point-persons at specific events.
I provide them with a list of awareness events in the coming months, also. They can choose to create a project for one of those, or do something totally their own.
Activities we’ve been able to do:
World AIDS Day Observance
Indoor Fitness Day
Hope 4 The Breast: Breast Cancer Awareness Event
Wrapped In Love: Onesie Decorating for a Local Hospital nursery
Helping Hands Drive: Glove Drive for the Homeless
Be A Success Story: Global Esteem Initiative
A Hand for the Homeless: Care Package Drive
Keep an attendance record of some kind! Teens with service hour requirements, may need to ask you for letters or to sign verification forms. Having a record that they were actually there, and for how many hours, will help you with this!
Keep calm! Don’t be frustrated if their conversations don’t seem to be very focused. Often, just allowing my teens to talk or even goof off for the first 15 minutes, lets them blow off steam and helps them wind around to a relevant point.
Identify partnerships. Reaching out to our local homeless shelter and hospital nursery beforehand, I was able to identify places where their projects could serve. The local chapter of my sorority was able to come in and co-plan our World AIDS day events. There are connections everywhere, don’t be afraid to think outside the box in finding them!
Provide suggestions, offer advice, but let them lead the way. Know that teens very often have an idea of what they want to do, but have no idea how to do it. Be a flexible facilitator.
Be flexible. As with all things teen, you’ll find that if you get too attached to how you want/expect things to go, you may very well miss something spectacular. Trust the process.
Good luck to you and your world-changers!
Have you tried a similar program for your teens? Drop us a line and let us know how yours works.