More and more these days, teens and preteens are expected to participate in community service for their school requirements. This is a great opportunity for teens and preteens to give back to their community and learn skills that are helpful in their lives, education, and career. For a library, it can often be difficult to accommodate the vast number of teens and preteens who wish to participate. It is also difficult dealing with different ages and abilities.

In my library system, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, we have a program for older teens, ages 14 – 18, that they apply to, are interviewed for, and dedicate their time for a semester. Because of the responsibilities that are given to these teens, it would be difficult to accommodate those that are younger. This is why our system developed the Community Service Project for Preteens program(s).

The Community Service Project for Preteens is a great way for youths, aged 11 – 14, to earn their community service requirements, but they are also given tasks that are more appropriate for their age. These preteens are not required to apply, as if for a job, they simply have to register to come and complete the given task. By having preteens register for the program, staff are able to control the number of participants, but it also teaches preteens the responsibility of signing-up on time. These programs often fill up fairly quickly, and we do not allow a waiting list due to the quantity of the materials, etc. By meeting the deadline for registration, preteens are gaining responsibility for themselves. 

All twenty branches in my system have done amazing things for the community through this program. At my branch, University City, we recently made a partnership with the local hospital to present programs, book talks, and more to patients. For our part, the teen department had preteens make get well cards to give to patients. Staff printed out get well coloring pages for the preteens to color. Then, they attached that to colorful construction paper, and a get well wish on the back. This was a great way to give back to those in our community, and library staff cannot wait to distribute them.


Staff  have also had preteens make bookmarks to give out in the children’s department. The children love to get free bookmarks, and it’s a great way to have different departments working together to give back to the community. Like our get better cards, staff have found fun bookmarks that preteens can cut, color, and decorate. Pinterest is a great place to get coloring pages and bookmarks.

At our West Boulevard branch, Brook Medlin  has preteens write thank you letters to veterans, deployed troops, and troops injured in action. Although teens seem to be timid about writing the letters, Medlin mentioned that she writes a letter too, to make the preteens feel more comfortable. “[The letters]  are all unique, and watching the kids’ mindset transform as they think of a soldier in the hospital is a real experience,” stated Medlin. Writing letters is a great way to help our community and country. 

Another branch in our system has had preteens help make decorative pieces for their branch. It helps make everything more aesthetically pleasing, but also gets preteens involved with creating pieces to display in their library. It is exciting for preteens to have what they worked on, on display at the library. Shown below is a picture from our Steele Creek branch; preteens made fun fish to hang from the archway.


Photo Courtesy: Jo Ayres; Steele Creek Library

Staff at Independence branch have had preteens make art for their local assisted living homes. “I bought several canvases, had teen volunteers use tape to create designs, and then had the teens in the program paint the canvas.  This was a pretty easy program, and the teens really enjoyed,” Britni Cherrington-Stoddart mentioned. During the holidays, preteens have also made ornaments for the assisted living homes. Preteens at this branch have also made placemats for Meals on Wheels and tie-dye bandannas and socks for Charlotte’s local animal shelters.

As mentioned in The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action, “an emphasis is placed on encouraging all teens, not just those who are regular visitors to the physically library, to participate in the development, implementation, and evaluation of library programs and services.”

While implementing the community service program, we have been able to reach a wider range of preteens to participate in library events. These preteens usually have no come to a library program before, but come back to participate in other programs. This program has allowed us to increase our participation by customers who do not frequent the library as much as others.

Finding ways for preteens to meet their volunteer requirements for school, but also keeping them engaged, while giving back to the community can sometimes be challenging. Many places have age requirements, but by holding programs for preteens to get their required hours at library is great for everyone. Preteens are giving back to their community in ways that may not be able to elsewhere. It also teaches them skills that they can take with them, whether these be creativity or work ethics.

Do you have any other ideas for community service projects? Let us know!


About Maeve Dodds

Maeve is a Teen Lead Librarian for Charlotte Mecklenburg County, University City Branch, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has worked in adult and children services, and was previously an elementary school media specialist. She likes reading in her hammock and trying new foods.

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