Our goal for the Teen Literacy Kit Outreach program was two-fold. We wanted to encourage teens from high poverty and homeless families to continue building their reading and writing skills over the summer. We also wanted to bring our library-based programs to the teens in our area who didn’t have transportation to the library during our regularly scheduled programs. To accomplish these goals, we contacted our local Dollar General store and asked them to let us block off part of their parking lot and turn it into a Teen Program space once a month during the June/July summer break. They enthusiastically agreed, and we got to work.
Step 1: Create Literacy Kits
Our concern centered on the large number of teens that are enrolled in the local middle and high schools who don’t have a consistent place to call home, much less a space to store books and journals. My Children’s Librarian and I (Library Manager) wanted to find a way to give those teens portable reading and writing materials, so we came up with the idea of literacy kits: drawstring bags with a book, unlined note book, bookmark, pen, toy, writing prompts and word games, and a Frequent Readers card donated by our local Dairy Queen. We also decided on an Honor Library so that the teens could take books and not worry about returning them.
Step 2: Design Teen Programming for a Parking Lot
This was the most challenging aspect of the program. Whatever we planned to do, we would have to bring everything from tables and tents to craft supplies. We decided to go with science experiments that could be done individually or as a team and didn’t need a lot of supplies to complete. Each experiment had goals that would allow the teens to earn points towards a prize: a coupon for a free dilly bar at Dairy Queen. We had planned to run the program like one of our library programs with a set beginning and end time, and we advertised it that way, but we found that teens trickled in throughout the program time and could only spend an average of 15 minutes with us. We modified the book talk to make it a quick introduction to the book and got the kids started on the experiments to keep them with us as long as possible. We passed out literacy kits to any teen who stopped by the tent and even a few that we chased down leaving the store. We only had 17 teens come to the first program and 12 teens come to the second program.
Step 3: Get Your Local Schools Involved
Since the parking lot programs didn’t reach our target of 50 teens, we reached out to the middle school up the road from the Dollar General store. They provide washers/dryers for homeless families in our area, and they also have a food pantry and used clothing rack. The school let us set up outside and pass out the literacy kits and honor books to teens during their laundry hours in July. We were able to pass out the remaining 21 kits and 14 of the honor books to the teens that we had hoped to reach. Success!
Melissa Clark is the Library Manager at Millersville Public Library of Sumner County.