Lunch @ the Library Brings Unexpected Rewards for Teen Engagement
Last summer, the Sacramento Public Library, in California, offered free lunches to young people, up to 18 years old, at the Valley Hi-North Laguna Library. The project was part of the California Library Association and California Summer Meal Coalition’s Summer Lunch at the Library program, developed to keep kids healthy and engaged while school is out. The program combined summer nutrition programs and summer reading programs to meet multiple community needs.’ It was a runaway success, with 3,406 meals served, but the most inspiring result was also the least expected: the engagement of teen volunteers.
We did not anticipate the strength of commitment that this project would engender. Within the first week, teens who did not originally know each other were sitting at the tables sharing lunch and joking. They were from different backgrounds, and from at least four different high schools and the junior college, but they became a positive and supportive team. With the guidance of volunteer coordinator Susan Bloom, they took the lead in designing the work flow. Intern Kate Ramos served as a mentor for the teens, acting as a sounding board for questions — personal and/or educational. The program provided a safe place for young people to learn how to work together, hone communication skills and provide support to each other in accomplishing a goal.
Susan talked to the teens throughout the summer about the useful skills they were learning. At the end of the program, we had a celebration to thank them. Susan shared job-hunting techniques, including tips from HR personnel at the local Target store. She also invited the executive vice president of a local tech company to talk about his life/job journey, providing a real-world example of a successful outcome after a rough start. And she presented the teens with sample resumes and letters of recommendation, articulating the workforce skills they had developed over the summer. Jamba Juice gift certificates were also distributed. The Library expected to feed children, and hoped to enroll summer readers. That Lunch @ the Library turned into a training ground for the teens was an unexpected bonus.
The Summer Meals program at Valley Hi-North Laguna was nothing short of transformational.’ The library impacted lives and changed the behaviors of the meal recipients, the volunteer crew and library staff . It also changed everyone’s expectations of what a library is and can be.
Submitted by Christie Hamm, Manager of Youth and Community Services, Sacramento (CA) Public Library