This summer, The Bill Memorial Library of Groton, CT was fortunate to employ two teen interns through funds provided by the YALSA Teen Intern Program and Dollar General. Over the course of the summer, our two interns were given a number of tasks that enriched our summer learning program for participants under age 10. These tasks included helping our youngest patrons with crafts, playing our summer learning game with younger students, and crafting a Cultural Banquet from beginning to end. While we fully expected this intern program to be enriching for our summer learning participants and are interns alike, we didn’t foresee the greatest benefit of the program – the chance for our teen interns to lead other teen volunteers and gather important skills as future leaders.
Each year, we have a number of teens ask to volunteer during our summer learning project. As any teen services coordinator knows, young volunteers can be a blessing and a curse. Volunteers are just as likely to be eager and passionate about helping the library as they are likely to be reluctant or forced by a parent to help out in their spare time. We have certainly encountered this in past summers at the Bill Memorial Library. This year, however, was different. This year, we had teen interns that we tasked with overseeing these volunteers. And the result was both unexpected and rewarding.
As soon as we placed these younger, sometimes reluctant, volunteers in the charge of our older, passionate teen interns, we saw an immediate change in their engagement level. Our young volunteers were suddenly eager to assist and began to see the benefit in assisting the library. The task of “volunteering at the library” was no longer a burden for these teen volunteers. Suddenly, it was a worthwhile project that gave them a purpose and direction in the doldrums of summer. The older teen interns sparked a fire in these young volunteers that we as adults and authority figures could not start ourselves. It was as if these young teens saw their older peers taking ownership of their newfound responsibility and said, “I want that too.” What we as staff witnessed was the growth of our young volunteers under the tutelage of their older peers, and what this meant for us was that we were watching a new generation of impassioned teen interns sprout up right before our eyes. We also watched as our teen interns gained a level of confidence in empowering their peers and honed important leadership skills that will serve them later in life.
Perhaps the greatest piece of knowledge we gleaned from our time with our teen interns was this: the ability for teens to empower their peers is invaluable and should be fostered whenever possible. Our teen interns will be the next generation of leaders, and it is our hope that those teen volunteers will be the next generation of teen interns. The continuation of this cycle will ensure the ongoing enrichment of our summer learning program, our library, and our community, and this realization would not have been possible without the YALSA Teen Intern program.
Kate Bengston is a Teen Programming Coordinator at Bill Memorial Library.