The Johnson City Public Library (Johnson City, TN) began a new teen program called Stories to Service after receiving the YALSA Symposium Programming Challenge Award in 2018. Stories to Service is a teen volunteer program that combines literature with volunteerism through service projects and book clubs. The projects are both planned and implemented by teen volunteers between ages 12-18. Participants will gather to decide what service area they would like to focus on. Then the participants will read a book centered on their selected topic, discuss it together, and complete a project related to the book.

JCPL’s Teen Services Manager, Katelyn Wolfe, drew inspiration for this program from various discussions at the YALSA Symposium in November 2017, including presentations on teen volunteers and an author panel discussing Rudine Sims Bishop’s essay Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors. Her goal was to create a program that accommodated the large number of teens who needed volunteer hours but also gave them an opportunity to connect with their community in new ways. Upon returning to the library, Katelyn brought the idea to the Teen Advisory Board members, who were immediately on board and began brain-storming possible ideas.

JCPL plans to host this program quarterly. The first program was held in July 2018. Teen volunteers chose to focus on the environment. Stories to Service participants read Pacifica by Kristen Simmons, a cli-fi dystopian novel inspired by the trash island in the Pacific Ocean. The library partnered with a local makerspace called Skillville to build bird houses and bug hotels that would draw in helpful bugs to the library’s pollinator garden. Check out a video of the first Stories to Service project at this link:

This fall, the teen volunteers have chosen to focus on driver’s safety for the Stories to Service project, specifically texting and driving. Participants will read Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner and plan to design bumper stickers to give out in the community to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. “It has been amazing to see what ideas the volunteers have come up with so far. This program has turned into an opportunity not only for them to volunteer and get to know their community, but for them to learn new skills,” Katelyn says. She hopes that other libraries will be inspired to implement their own version of Stories to Service. This program is extremely flexible and can be adjusted to meet the needs of any library’s budget and the availability of its volunteers.

For updates on Stories to Service, visit

Katelyn Wolfe is the Teen Services Manager at the Johnson City Public Library in Johnson City, TN.


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