POWHATAN – When teen services coordinator Brooke Rabas began brainstorming ideas for Powhatan County Public Library’s teen summer reading program, she was aware of the challenges she faced.
Planning a summer reading program meant to attract young people anywhere from 13 to 18 years old with a wide range of interests and activities competing for their attention is a tall order.
To make sure she was on the right track, she took her initial list of ideas to the library’s Teen Advisory Board, inviting the members’ honest and even blunt reactions to make sure she was on the right track.
“I suggested a lot of things. Some of them they told me immediately, ‘that is dumb and we should not do that.’ But I would much rather know it was dumb rather than run the program and nobody show up,” she said with a laugh.
People are also reading…
The final result was a full line-up of movie nights, tournament-style game nights, an escape room and an interactive Five Nights at Freddy’s event. The program was scheduled to wrap up Monday evening with the Teen Summer Reading Finale.
“Teens are the hardest group to reach. They just have a diverse set of interests and also a conflict of interests because they only have so much time. They are juggling so many things they can only choose so many things they want to do,” Rabas said. “Kids are more apt to be, ‘oh cool a shark’ and you get 50 kids coming in, but teens, if they are not interested, they are not interested.”
Fortunately, the group’s instincts were spot on, and the teen summer reading program had great attendance across the multiple events, Rabas said. In addition to the 67 teens registered this summer – much lower than the children’s program but great numbers compared to previous years and acknowledging the challenges in engaging teenagers – attendance at the almost weekly events was fantastic for teen programming. The movie and game nights averaged 10 to 20 teens, depending on the week, and the Bermuda Triangle-themed escape room had 21 teens trying to solve their way out of the room.
For Rabas, who used to participate in the summer reading program as a teen and has planned it the last two years, there was a drive to make this summer’s program amazing. Knowing the program was going to be entirely in-person, she already had an advantage over the two previous years, which featured almost exclusively virtual events.
The mood at last year’s online events was “kind of sad,” Rabas said, because young people were burnt out on virtual gatherings.
“All the kids were doing school virtually so they didn’t want to get online again for a few hours to do even fun things. We did weekly game nights and bigger events once a month where they would pick up packets at the library, take them home and we would assemble them together. But the overall mood just felt sad,” she said.
That made planning for this summer exciting, especially with the advisory board thrilled to pitch in and help with the planning and some execution of the events, she added. For instance, the teens chose the movies – “who knows what teenagers like to do better than other teenagers” – and acted as the scary animatronic characters in last week’s Five Nights at Freddy’s Event.
The members of the Teen Advisory Board are nice, hard working and love what they have gotten to do and experience with the summer reading program, said Rory Rook, 15, of Powhatan, one of the members. Rory talked about how great it has been to see teens attending the events and making new friends they might not have met otherwise.
“To me it is a lot of building relationships. You can get physical things like when you go to the events you get tickets for showing up and when you win something you can get tickets for that, but I think a lot of it is the social connection,” he said.
Rabas said that over the course of the summer, teens could win prize tickets by coming to events and reading. They can then use those tickets to exchange for other prizes or enter for the grand prize, a $150 gift card donated by Target at Westchester Commons.
“I have seen there has been a lot more reading than I expected to see, which is awesome,” she said. “I have seen teens connect who wouldn’t have before and friends be made. A lot of them have been looking for little ways to help even if they are not on the Teen Advisory Board.”
Moving forward, Rabas said the Teen Advisory Board meetings and the Anime Club will return with their alternating schedules, but she is hoping to add to that with more programming that will bring the same energy as the teen summer reading program.