By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
Erin Gillespie wants to do her part to make the world a better place, so she’s introducing a new Teen Kindness Club at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library.
Once a month, youth in grades six through 12 will have the opportunity to get together for two hours and volunteer. According to Gillespie, the library’s teen associate, they may be dusting shelves and rearranging book displays or making greeting cards for nursing home residents.
“It will be exciting, something good for the community,” she said.
The purpose of the club is twofold, she explained. Students will be able to count this time as service hours for school requirements, and they’ll be learning to give back to the community.
The first meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in the children’s programming room. No registration is required.
Meetings will be held monthly, but students aren’t required to attend every one. A log will keep track of their hours throughout the year.
The library already has a lot of volunteers, Gillespie said, but this will be a very open group for anyone who wants to participate. She expects that some of the students who already serve on the library’s Youth Advisory Board will join, “because that’s what they do at the library. They’re committed to this place and making it better.”
The Youth Advisory Board, or YABs, helps plan teen programming and reviews new books. Teens must submit an application and be accepted into the group. They also agree to commit to volunteering three hours every month, for a total of 36 hours a year. Many, however, go above and beyond that. Gillespie recently tallied hours for 2019 and said most of the board members worked 40, 50 or even 60 hours.
“The younger ones are really very excited and you can tell that,” she said, adding that one member who joined in June had volunteered nearly 70 hours by the end of the year.
“She’s excited. She wants to come here and make the library a better place. It’s neat,” Gillespie said.
YABs is open to students in both the Findlay City and county schools and home-schooled students. There are currently 26 active members.
“They get their start here. We kind of say the YABs and volunteering at the library is really like your first on-the-job site,” said Gillespie. “You’re learning those first job skills, leadership, communication and some customer service.”
She said there’s also a group of volunteers who help with the summer reading program. These teens generally work two hours a week during the summer, and one of their main jobs is helping young children and families register for the program and report their progress.
There’s even a TWIG program for youth in fifth and sixth grades. These volunteers help run some of the tween activities and brainstorm program ideas.
New library Director Sarah Clevidence said these are great opportunities for young people.
“This is a really nice place to volunteer. It’s a great environment to be in. Our children’s staff is amazing,” she said.
She agreed with Gillespie that these volunteering opportunities help teach young people early leadership skills, particularly the summer program.
“We kind of think of that as a first job opportunity for kids,” Clevidence said. “You’re expected to show up at a particular time on a regular schedule and be prepared to complete your tasks while you’re here, and be friendly to the kids who come up.”
Gillespie said the Kindness Club was inspired by R. J. Palacio’s book “Wonder.” It’s the story of a child with a disability who doesn’t quite fit in, she said.
“Some kids choose to treat him one way and other kids treat him another way. And it’s basically showing you’ve got to be kind to one another in this world,” she said. “So if you’re choosing kindness as a volunteer, you’re giving back. That’s kind of where the name comes from.”
At Monday’s meeting, members will prepare craft materials for preschool storytimes. In February, they’ll make cards to distribute at local nursing homes.
Programs like this show youth that “it’s more than just you,” said Gillespie. “You’ve got to do things for others.”