In the past six months I’ve learned a lot about collaborating, co-teaching and co-leading, recruiting, planning, marketing, career and job readiness, and most importantly, teenagers. The YALSA Summer Learning Resources grant was the first grant application I ever wrote, and I was humbled to be selected and given the chance to execute an educational library program (career and job readiness) with a unique twist (the culminating experience would be shopping for a professional interview outfit).
To prepare for summer, I worked with the high school principal and counselors, staff at the Boys & Girls Club, and appealed to teens directly. I spoke with parents, put an ad in our local paper, and held meetings with students. But as summer ticked closer, I grew more frantic, faced with a sparse participant roster. Most teens halfheartedly expressed interest but withheld their full commitment, holding out instead for a potential job at Hardee’s, Pizza King, or the local watermelon fields.
In the end, my program reached a younger audience than I had anticipated. I worked mostly with teens ages 12-16. This would not be a crowd ready to shop for a professional interview outfit – they had years before entering the full-time workforce, and they were bound for plenty of changes in those years.
The curriculum I executed, in which we discussed teamwork, hobbies and extracurricular activities, and communication with adults, was very different from the curriculum I had envisioned: streamlining resumes, serious mock interviews, and on-the-job excellence. The teens were younger, gigglier, and flightier – they weren’t tied up with work, but dealt with unstable housing arrangements, sports practices, and babysitting younger siblings. Even from this group it was impossible to get firm, eight-week commitments.
Instead of the program I proposed and envisioned, I threw my enthusiasm into the people in front of me, holding my head high even when only two or three teens showed up for a meeting. I focused on planting seeds and didn’t stress about teaching it all. We didn’t purchase interview outfits, but our teens were able to earn a “stipend” with their attendance at meetings and instead purchased new school uniforms, school supplies, or equipment to help them reach their professional or educational goals.
It’s hard to see a grant-funded program deviate from your vision. It’s different from an isolated flop because there’s more time, effort, and energy woven in – it feels like there’s more at stake, because it’s something you’re doing very publicly. I’ve learned that there’s still a lot to learn about how, when, where, and why teens will congregate for an event, which motivates me and inspires me to keep going, keep trying.
I won’t disregard this experience or pretend it never happened; it was painful and confusing at times, but never a waste. I now have a better understanding of my patrons. I now have new partners with my same passion for youth, and plenty of notes on what worked and didn’t work with this particular attempt. My plan going forward is to continue to lean into each encounter – each fumble and each success.
Abby Davis is a Youth Services Librarian at Laurel Public Library.