This is the second in a three part series on serving homeless youth in libraries. We invite questions, ideas, and comments for the discussion to continue on this very important topic.
I’m new to Teen Library Services, having started at ImaginOn, a unique children-and-youth-only library within the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system, only six months ago, but with my background in Girl and Boy Scouting I’m not new to service projects. When a coworker suggested that we develop a program addressing child homelessness in our city (Charlotte, NC) to tie in with a photography exhibit in the building, I jumped at the opportunity to create a service project for the teens.
ImaginOn has been hosting a photography exhibit titled “Through Their Eyes.” The photographs in the exhibit were taken by homeless children during a summer day camp put on by the local non-profit A Child’s Place. This past summer participating children were given digital photography classes provided by David Johnson of Silent Images, and these are the photographs now on display at ImaginOn. The photographs serve as a great conversation starter with the teens about child homelessness and how it can affect every aspect of a child’s life.
In November 2012 we first invited Annabelle Suddreth of A Child’s Place to come talk to a group of teens about homelessness and the work that A Child’s Place does to combat its effects. We had five teens at that program, and we also provided messenger bags for the teens to decorate with buttons with positive, uplifting, or just for fun messages and then fill with pamphlets, emergency cards, bookmarks, and information about hanging out at ImaginOn. It was during the planning of this program that we learned of a Child’s Place’s need for basic toiletry items for homeless teens. For the second program, in January 2013, we did an internal collection of toiletry items from staff at ImaginOn and included those in the messenger bags. The second program was put on for a school group and had thirty-six teens participate. Annabelle Suddreth was able to come talk to the teens both times.
Ms. Suddreth gave a very engaging talk on homelessness in Charlotte and told the teens about the different ways that A Child’s Place helps support homeless children. By the end of the presentation, some teens wanted to know how they could become volunteers with A Child’s Place! Overall, this photography exhibit and the corresponding programs had a huge impact on participating teens.
System-wide, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library offers teens the chance to give back to the community through their Project Payoff program. This program is a way for teens to “work off” their fines by participating in library programs and by logging reading hours. In order for a teen to enroll in the program they must bring in a canned item to donate to area homeless shelters.
Not only do many teens need to collect service hours in order to graduate high school, most teens sincerely want to help others. The Through Their Eyes and Project Payoff programs have been highly successful, leaving a lasting positive impression on the teens.