Queen Creek library gives teens chances to help others, earn service hours

From left, Carl Smith, who oversees the library’s teen programs, and volunteer Andrea Bastek. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Area youths eager to give back to the community, earn hours toward scholarship requirements or shape the future of programs offered locally can look no further than Queen Creek Library.

The local branch of Maricopa County Library District provides younger residents — those ages 12-18 — a wealth of free opportunities such as membership in its Teen Advisory Group, volunteering, learning how to plan and execute a community event while having fun learning new skills.


The 20 members of Queen Creek Library’s Teen Advisory Group influence which events and programs are offered, according to Carl Smith, who oversees the library’s teen programs.

“Who better to know what teens want than the teens themselves? They are there to advise me about what books to order and to help organize programs, all while receiving service hours. Members develop leadership skills, do service-based activities and help to create children’s programming,” Mr. Smith said.

Madison Brewster, 14, was looking at library programs in which to participate when she noticed the Teen Advisory Group, or TAG.

“I like helping the community and giving ideas for things, so I was interested in joining,” she said.

Isabella D’Alessandro has been a TAG member since March.

“I’ve wanted to be more involved in the library. Carl really encouraged me to join and I knew I’d be a valued member,” said Isabella, who applies her community service hours toward fulling her National Honor Society quota. “I love that TAG involves kids and their community. We all come together and having a great time doing it.”

One project in which all members participated was the July 11 tech/art fair, which presented STEAM activities geared for families and kids ages 6-17. The event stations manned by TAG members featured robots, the science of bubbles, 3-D printing, light shows and technology-infused art projects.

Isabella planned and manned a station that enabled people to build and operate Buzzbot and Muttbot robots.

“You got to build them using a more complex version of Legos. They have a motor generator and you could move them around using an iPad,” Isabella said.

She instructed about 12 children and adults about how to build and operate the bots during the 2.5- hour-long event.

The interaction appealed to Isabella.

“I have a brother with autism who has always loved Legos, which help him express himself creatively,” she said. “When you build a project and see it through, there is so much gratification when it’s all done. I love seeing kids do the same thing. It brings a smile to my face.”

Planning and manning her station taught Isabella how hard it is to put together an event, she said.

“People may look at library events and think it’s pretty easy, but it’s a lot of hard work,” she said.

TAG members attended two to three planning meetings led by Mr. Smith to discuss how to operate their stations, how to handle the public and how complex the event could be.

“In the end it was worth the hard work,” she said. “I think I realized I’m pretty good at interacting with other people. Before volunteering, I was kind of shy, I couldn’t interact. Working the tech fair and being on TAG helped me get out the box. At the end I realized I’m pretty good at this.”

Suzanne D’Alessandro said her daughter’s personality has “really blossomed” since volunteering at the library.

“She has been a lot more independent and responsible. She used to be very introverted and shy; this job has taught her to very personable,” Mrs. D’Alessandro said.

Madison’s station at the tech/art fair demonstrated how to make ice cream with rock salt and ice. She learned how to set up and take down her station and planned out the best way to instruct the public about how to make the ice cream.

“We prepped, practiced and gave ideas of improvements and it went pretty well. My station was very popular,” Madison said.

Mr. Smith said he was proud of his TAG members for their work at the fair.

“TAG kids really ran their stations. They worked with every customer who came up to their station and represented themselves in a professional way,” he said.

TAG is open to kids ages 12-18; they do not have to reside in Queen Creek.

Its 20 or so members meet at 4 p.m. one to two times a month inside the library at 21802 S. Ellsworth Road, in the Town Center.

TAG will meet Aug. 28 to kick off the new year, talk about service projects and set goals for the upcoming year. During its Sept. 25 meeting, members will review volunteer opportunities beyond TAG at the library.

(Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Sharing expertise

Like most kids her age, Brynna Ferguson, 16, grew up with technology. When a friend told her about an opportunity to share her expertise while helping others at Queen Creek Library, she did not hesitate to volunteer.

“We usually provide information about the library and its website and how to download from an app called OverDrive,” Brynna said about her two years as part of the Teen Tech Experts program, which pairs area teens with people seeking help with their smart phones, computers and other devices.

“We also help them with whatever technology questions, like downloading music to their cellphone, trying to get documents off the computer or on the computer from another device. They bring their laptops and tablets and iPads. The main questions we get are the stuff with the library and the music.”

Most of her clients are over 50, Brynna estimated, but added she also has assisted people in their late 20s and older.

Brynna is able to apply her volunteer time to her community service hours at school.

“They look good on college applications,” she said.

In addition, she had developed her interpersonal skills, she said.

“You have to be able to talk to people and thoroughly explain what you’re talking about,” Brynna said.

“It’s hard for people who haven’t a clue about technology to understand if you talk in strictly technological terms. That’s sometimes hard (to use layman’s terms) because us teenagers tend to have our own vocabulary regarding technology; it’s almost like translating.”

She said she has always been good at working with people, but her interactions with Teen Tech clients have helped hone those skills.

She put them to good use assisting a man over the course of about six weeks. The problem was not that the client had problems comprehending technology, but that he needed to bring in a series of devices, Brynna said.

“The problem was mostly with music and downloading it to a different device from his laptop to his MP3 player,” the teen said.

Each week the duo would determine the man needed a different device, which he would bring in the following week. They uploaded the content using an adaptor, they uploaded content to his iPod player, and they deleted information off his computer and his flash drive. They also discovered his flash drive did not have enough memory and dealt with that challenge.

“Every week he’d come in with something else and we’d help him with it,” the teen technician said.

Brynna said she would recommend the Teen Tech Experts program to other teens.

“If you can’t do what you love, do something you know,” she said.

Teen Tech Experts is offered 3:30-5 p.m. Wednesdays. Appointments are not required.

Volunteer staff

Teens comprise two-thirds of the library’s 45-member volunteer staff, Mr. Smith said. They work a weekly two- to four-hour shift during which they help shelve books and clean toys, he said.

“There is really a demand for teen volunteers. And the program is probably our most popular because the teens need volunteers hours for college entrance or scholarships,” Mr. Smith explained.

To qualify, teens need to be 14-18 years old. Once they have applied, the library staff works with the teens to determine if the program is the right fit for them, Mr. Smith said.

“They must possess some customer service skills and there is some lifting involved. We want them to get a feeling if this is something they want to do for a few months. We ask for a two- to four-month commitment,” he said.

Teens accepted into the program attend an orientation and receive training.

In return, the students can improve their work and communication skills, learn time management and how to work with the public.

“These are skills they will need in college and their future workplace,” Mr. Smith said.

The opportunity to make himself a more desirable job candidate attracted Michael Chuong to the teen volunteer program.

“When I’m job hunting in the future, I can say even though I didn’t have a real job, while I was volunteering at the library I had a consistent schedule; I would come in every Saturday,” Michael, who also serves on the Teen Advisory Group, said. “I’ve learned that working in a group is pretty important. Any job I have in the future, I will have to work with people and it is good to know how to best do that.”

Teen events

The library’s more popular teen-centered events deal with technology and the performing arts, Mr. Smith said.

“We try to offer more programs to help expose them to new technology to give them an idea of what careers to go into in technology,” he said. “Theater programs also are very popular.”

The library introduced a new hip-hop dance class and is talking about starting a writing series in September. Teens can come together and share writing in any genre and receive feedback from their peers and a library staff member, Mr. Smith said.

People do not need a Queen Creek Library card to attend the library’s free events, Mr. Smith said.

An event calendar may be viewed on the library’s website at mcldaz.org/queencreek.

Upcoming teen events include the following:

  • Aug. 8 Cupcake Wars: Teens will decorate cupcakes with designs based on their favorite books or literary characters. The library will supply the cupcakes and decorations.
  • Aug 20 Teen Scene: Theater for Teens – Participants will learn the art of improvisation and play improv games.
  • Sept. 4 Monthly Maker: Participants will make a marble run out of cardboard, Popsicle sticks and hot glue. No experience is necessary.
  • Sept 11 Teen Art: Duct Tape Crafts – Participants will make either a rose or a wallet out of duct tape. Space and supplies, which the library will provide, are limited.

Michael encourages teens to donate some time to the library.

“I know a lot of people who want to volunteer, but are scared to. They don’t have to be,” the 17-year-old said. “Try it, and if it’s not for you it’s not for you. There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone at the library is super nice. I love working there.”

Editor’s note: Wendy Miller is a freelance journalist at the Queen Creek Independent.

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