Bringing young people a sense of togetherness while they're physically separated is the theme of a newly expanded teen subscription pack program organized by the Ypsilanti District Library
's (YDL) Teen Advisory Group
TAG members had already been creating packets of free take-home activities and conversational ice-breakers since January, using YDL's program budget. Now they're planning to expand the program, reach more teens, and provide paid internships. That major expansion is thanks to a $24,000 grant from Generator Z
, a grantmaking initiative of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation
that supports teens and after-school programming providers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first came to Michigan, YDL closed without even offering curbside service at first. That meant many people couldn't access the resources they were used to, says TAG member Sophie Nepiuk, 17.
"Teen mental health was something we wanted to prioritize and positively contribute to," she says. "So we designed a program where we could get online resources and goodies to people to make them feel cared about during this time."
She says the goal is to help connect young people to each other in an ongoing way, not just during the pandemic. The monthly packs usually contain a book, plus conversation starters, and each month focuses on a different theme. Topics tackled so far include social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement; Pride; Juneteenth; and self-care and mental health.
"We want our packs to tie into important issues like social justice, and global and community issues," says TAG member Ayesha Nadeem, 14. "The content of the packs includes books, bookmarks, motivational stickers, art and craft supplies, and book lists. We also match each month's theme with information connecting [teens] with local resources dealing with race and social justice and mental health."
TAG is a group of teen volunteers who guide the library in selecting materials and guiding programming for teens. They also write grant proposals, give presentations to other youth organizations, and volunteer at YDL youth programs.
"They're really involved in the library world, and it's great to have their voice," says YDL Youth Librarian Kelly Scott. "They really feel passionate about making positive change in the community and the larger world. They're tackling big topics – issues that are complicated for everyone, but especially for teens."
Scott says a steady group of about 17 young people met throughout the pandemic, though the number of participants was a little higher when they were meeting in-person, rather than virtually.
"They really took off with the subscription pack idea. They felt a big purpose in that and helping us to write grants," Scott says. "We also are hearing from teens receiving the packs how much they enjoyed them and looked forward to them each month."
Now, with new grant funding, TAG plans to increase the number of packs it creates from 20-30 per month to 100 per month. Some packs will be distributed at the library, while others will go to youth-serving organizations like Ozone House
and the Corner Health Center
The YDL Teen Advisory Group July packet.
Nadeem is not only a TAG member but was one of 1,000 teens chosen to guide the Generator Z ideas lab, which launched in 2020. The program is focused on teens and after-school providers in southeast Michigan and western New York. The teen "generators" shared their stories and insights, and nearly 100 organizations received grants to turn some of those ideas into programs.
Nadeem was part of a roundtable of teens that helped Generator Z define teens' after-school needs, and she even gave feedback on Generator Z branding and marketing materials. She was excited when TAG won a grant from Generator Z to expand the teen subscription pack program.
In addition to handing out more packs, the grant will allow TAG members to expand programming and record a podcast, to be launched on YDL's website soon. They'll be vetting and interviewing candidates to become paid interns, who will help create and run teen programming through YDL. Teen interns will be paid during the school year to record podcasts, create social media content, and facilitate in-person and virtual events that promote social change.
Scott notes that TAG truly is a youth-driven group. Teens take on the bulk of all projects they pursue. Steering committee members are also gaining experience with crafting a strategic plan, interviewing, and hiring.
"At every step, we the teens were part of it," Nadeem says. "This program is unique in that it truly is for teens, by teens. We're really blessed to have a library that values teen input."
Jodi Krahnke and Ayesha Nadeem at the Ypsilanti District Library Whittaker Road branch.
Both Scott and her fellow Youth Librarian Jodi Krahnke note that the TAG members on the steering committee for the subscription packs are getting real-world experience that may help them later in life.
"We're really excited," Krahnke says. "It's a large grant, and it's great to be able to walk teens through managing a process like this."
Scott says the work the teens have done in starting and expanding the teen subscription pack program is "a testament to how engaged our youth are in what's happening in the world."
"We see how passionate they are about positive outcomes for a lot of issues, such as climate change and acceptance of others despite differences," Scott says. "It's inspiring for me as an adult to see young people with such a passion and drive to make the world a better place."
Any local teens ages 13-18 interested in learning more about or joining TAG can find more information here
. Teens may reserve a supply pack by emailing email@example.com
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe.