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At your service: community service week in Long Island.

It may be universally acknowledged that free food at a program attracts teens, but in Rockville Centre, food wasn't enough. With so much competition for their time, busy teens often have difficulty fitting the library into their routines. As in many suburban communities, life in our Long Island village is filled with athletics, drama (all kinds), and after school activities. As young adult librarians, we have to determine the needs of our customers and find creative ways to wrangle library programs into teens' hectic schedules. Our programming took off once we realized that two simple words--community service--were the key to capturing their attention and getting them into the library. When we recognized an unmet need--the requirement to perform service hours--we created Community Service Week, a hugely successful week-long teen program.



For years, teens had come to the library asking the dreaded question, "Can I volunteer at the library?" Many Rockville Centre teens are affiliated with churches and synagogues, and they often have to fulfill volunteer requirements as part of their religious education. Additionally, the local schools require service hours for eighth graders and for admission to the National Junior Honor Society. In the past, finding volunteer work was a challenge and, frankly, the tasks were tedious--cutting, stamping, and filing. None of this really provided service to the community, but the teens were doing their time and everyone was happy. Well, sort of. The only other volunteer option was our summer Book Buddies program during which teens read with young children, aged three to six. This program fulfilled volunteer requirements and was also fulfilling for teens (as well as their little buddies). The registration always overflowed to a wait list.


Then, while wishing all of our programs were as popular as Book Buddies, we had a "eureka" moment. We realized that Book Buddies, which attracted large numbers of teens, could be offered as a community service program at times other than the summer. Stepping out of our box, we decided to hold Book Buddies during a school break. As we began planning, we continued to add volunteer opportunities and Community Service Week, an entire week dedicated to volunteering, was born. What started as a trial program in 2003 has become a community staple.


Community Service Week is held annually in February during the President's Week break. Sign-up begins a month earlier and because of great demand, we limit our participants to seventh and eighth graders whose need for hours is most pressing and who are usually considered too young to volunteer elsewhere. We advertise Community Service Week on our website and Facebook page, and we contact teachers at the local schools and provide them with flyers so they can talk up the program. Since Community Service Week is an annual event, teachers, students, and parents eagerly anticipate the week.

Volunteers fulfill their hours doing meaningful work in a teen-friendly environment. Flexibility is a must when working with adolescents; yet, at the same time, we want them to understand that volunteering is a commitment and responsibility. To set this tone, teens must sign up in person. This allows us to get to know them and it becomes an obligation they cannot outsource to parents or friends. At our programs, we seize the opportunity to teach some important life lessons: Be responsible, punctual, cooperative, turn off your phones, pay attention, and be engaged.

Both Book Buddies and Tech Team--a program in which teens provide computer instruction to adults--include mandatory orientations held before the official start of the programs. Not only does this alleviate any concerns, it gives volunteers the confidence to get a strong start. Training for Book Buddies includes tips for reading aloud and engaging young children. Tech Team volunteers learn about teaching computer basics. They receive an instruction manual with teaching tips and helpful websites. Both orientations emphasize skills for working with the public. We have found that establishing clear parameters and expectations results in positive experiences for all. "I've been coming to the Rockville Centre Public Library since I was a little kid. I feel comfortable volunteering here and I know what to do because of the orientations," said teen volunteer Ben Sobel.

At the conclusion of the week, all volunteers can pick up certificates of appreciation which document their participation. We work on an honor system, so the teens are responsible for tracking their hours. Throughout the week, we take photos and videos which are displayed in the YA area, and posted on our library's website and Facebook pages. Many of the teens use these photos for their school projects and also enjoy seeing their participation documented throughout the year.


We are committed to offering programs which meet the needs and special needs of all teens in the community. Shy, no problem; not a big reader, that's fine too; a techie, an athlete, a gamer, crafty, artistic, a bookworm--there's a place for you at the library. We do not screen our volunteers, and everyone who participates finds acceptance and something meaningful to do. Here's what we offer:

Programs for teens who like working with children

Book Buddies: The perennial mainstay of Community Service Week. Teens pair up with young children to enjoy books, puzzles, and puppets. Each session begins with an orientation.

Game Day: Board and video games with school-age children. Volunteers arrive early to help set up and stay after to clean up.

Minute To Win It (new this year): Based on the popular game show, school-age children and teens perform sixty-second challenges using household items. This is done in front of an audience of parents and siblings who cheer on the contestants. Suggestions for challenges can be found online.

Yoga Buddies: Teens and school-age children team up for an hour of yoga led by a certified instructor.

Loose Parts: Teens and kindergarteners pair up to build art from recyclables. We collect boxes, mailing tubes, egg cartons, etc. throughout the year and with just some glue, scissors, and crayons, the teens and kids get creative.

Story Crafts: Story time, but with a related craft for teens and young children to work on together.




Tech Team: Teens provide one-on-one basic computer instruction to adults in our computer lab. Each session begins with an orientation. Adults register in advance.


Food Drive: Teens sort and box food collected during our Community Service Week food drive.

Read-a-Thon: Teens are sponsored to read, and the money they raise is given to a local food bank and shelter. They receive sponsor sheets during sign-up and collect money in advance of the program. We supply books, bagels, snacks, and beverages to keep the teens fueled. This year our Read-a-Thon was a six-hour event, but the time has varied from year to year.


The success of Community Service Week does not ride solely on the popularity of the programs. A supportive staff is essential to a smooth and effective week. Since the very first Community Service Week, the children's and young adult librarians have been partners in the planning process. Staff cooperation and collaboration is a necessity. Each of us recognizes the value of Community Service Week and works together to formulate programs and mentor teens. "Book Buddies is the best," said youth services librarian Jen Marino. "The kids interact with each other and with the books. The big kids introduce the little ones to their childhood favorites and it really makes the teens remember how fun the library can be."

In recent years, Community Service Week has stretched beyond the confines of the library. In an effort to provide teens with an awareness of the needs of the greater Long Island community, we have teamed up with The Interfaith Nutrition Network (The INN), which supports emergency housing and soup kitchens throughout Long Island. Through dialogue with The INN, we've learned the needs of their guests so our teens can do projects to benefit them. During the year, many of our community service activities focus on creating holiday gifts for guests at The INN. Additionally, we hold a food drive during Community Service Week. Teens are asked to bring food and toiletries when volunteering and our entire community is encouraged to participate. One of our most satisfying activities has been our annual Read-a-Thon to support The INN. This year, twenty-nine teens were sponsored to read for six hours each. The teens raised $1,000. "We are so proud of our young people who are eager volunteers in the library. But that's not all! They willingly extend their efforts into our community," said Rockville Centre Public Library Director Maureen Chiofalo. Partnering with other agencies expands the options for volunteer opportunities, establishes the value of volunteering as a community activity, and has proven to be a gratifying experience for our teens.


Community Service Week is viable for every library budget. Most of our programs cost little or no money. Craft programs use recyclables which we collect year around, while game programs use the electronic and board games the library already owns. Our costs this year, which were paid for from our programming budget, were limited to a yoga instructor for Yoga Buddies and the food and beverages available at the Read-a-Thon. If your library has an active Friends of the Library group, you might ask them to sponsor programs, or you can choose ones that incur no cost. Let your particular situation guide what you plan to offer. All that is needed is a willing staff to supervise the programs and some imagination.

This year, over the course of one week, seventy-three teens participated in eleven programs. They read, taught, played, raised money, had their needs met, and met the needs of others. Now that's a successful week!

Terry Ain has been a young adult librarian at the Rockville Centre Public Library for thirteen years. This past January, she became head of youth services when the young adult and children's departments were merged.

Erin Lavery has been a children's and young adult librarian at the Rockville Centre Library for three years. Previously, she worked at a branch of the Queens Public Library.
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Title Annotation:Rockville Centre Library, Long Island, New York
Author:Ain, Terry; Lavery, Erin
Publication:Voice of Youth Advocates
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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