Empowering teens: Young adults forging new paths as Summer Youth Workers

Update: applications to be a Summer Youth Worker are currently open, through March 9, 2018!

The events calendar at Joel D. Valdez Main Library’s 101Space is jam-packed. On a monthly basis, teens can choose from dozens of events from Code Club to writing workshops.

During the summer months, as teens flock to this free space to harness creativity and explore new hobbies, the offerings are even greater. For teens like Mina and Yasmin, participating not only meant enjoying these programs but helping Library staff prepare for them.

As Summer Youth Workers, they gained real-life skills, served their community, and learned the inner workings of the Library.

Before working at the Library Yasmin says she didn’t quite realize how much was offered, especially for teens. “There’s so much to do here,” she says. “It’s a place where you can always learn something new and are encouraged to be creative.”

Being surrounded by great literature, knowledge, and resources has its perks too. Mina says, “I read a book a week while I was there.” Among her favorites this summer were John Green’s Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. She also revisited Dreamcatcher, one of her top picks from Stephen King.

Mina and Yasmin helped with a wide variety of tasks, including assisting Library pages and preparing craft supplies for programs like social justice linocut posters and board game design. Eager and ready to jump in whenever needed, they even cleaned out and organized the closet that holds supplies for young adult programming, no small task given the breadth of activities offered at the Library.

“It felt good to be valued and needed,” says Yasmin. Mina adds, “We knew that doing these things for the staff meant helping make the programs the best they can be.”

Among the other reasons Mina and Yasmin pursued the opportunity: professional experience, building their résumés, to get off the couch when school’s out, to have personal spending money, and to feel independent.

Yasmin says, “Having work on my résumé is so important for my future. It’ll make me stand out among other candidates.”

For this Tucson High School student who’s on track to graduate in 2019, the opportunity to gain professional work experience helped put her one step closer to her dream of entering the Navy and possibly pursuing a career in forensic psychology.

At 14, Mina also attends Tucson High School (class of 2021) and aspires to go to Johns Hopkins University where she hopes to study to become a surgeon or cardiologist.

“The Summer Youth Program is a great stepping stone,” says Maria Suarez of Pima County’s Youth One-Stop where the program is coordinated. “We’re proud to help teens make career plans, set long term goals, and gain work experience.”

It’s all in line with Pima County’s Cradle to Career Initiative, which aims to prepare every child for success in school and life, beginning with kindergarten.

Em Lane, Young Adult Services Manager at Joel D. Valdez Main Library says, “Connecting to education, training, and employment opportunities is as important to teens as learning to read is to young children. If we want our community’s youth to be successful in life, we need to always be providing opportunities for them to expand their skills.”

The Library’s commitment to their success is not lost on Yasmin and Mina. “Library staff were so warm, welcoming, and patient,” says Yasmin.

For Library staff, the benefits are equally great. “It’s an honor to watch teens get involved and forge new paths in their lives,” says Em. “We can advocate for them and give them the tools they need, but to see them putting the wheels in motion is something of which we’ll never tire.”