Thursday, August 18th, 2005 • 1 Comment on The Future is Brighter Than You Think
Of all the things I’ll miss about my job at the library (quiet out there, I hear you laughing—there are things I will miss), it’s the teen volunteers I will miss the most. For five summers I’ve coordinated the teen volunteer program and for the past two years, maybe three, the teens were the main reason I stayed at the library.
I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise that managing fifty teenagers for eleven weeks was not a job I wanted. In fact, I dreaded it that first year. It was dumped on me two weeks after I started working at the library with the pronouncement, “The person you replaced used to do this.” So with no more direction or guidance than that, I had to figure out how to get teens to volunteer—in other words, work for free. Go ahead and laugh, I did.
In five summers, I’ve recruited and trained over 125 teenagers. In five summers, they’ve logged over six thousand hours of volunteer time. In five summers, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about teenagers. I’ve watched their personalities develop, listened to their goals and fears, empathized with all the angst that goes along with figuring out who you are and what you want and smiled when they accomplished their goals. There are some I wanted to smack, but a whole bunch I wanted to adopt.
I may be one of the few people who likes teenagers more than babies. Babies are so cute, so small, so full of wonder at the world—what’s not to love, right? What I’ve learned in the past five years is that teens are also full of wonder at the world—they just hide it behind a smirk or a scowl or a lot of messy hair. As much as I have enjoyed getting to know these kids, I’ve also developed a tremendous amount of respect for them. Teenagers are discriminated against, taken advantage of, judged harshly by standards they didn’t create and generally told they’re not old enough to have an independent thought or real emotions. Yet most of them still manage to get through this difficult stage of life and go on to bigger and better things. They are, quite honestly, amazing.
Working with teens—who can smell fear and spot a phony—is a challenge. There are times when it felt like I was herding cats or babysitting preschoolers, but the frustrations and headaches were worth the rewards. Five years ago, I didn’t want anything to do with teenagers, much less the title of teen volunteer coordinator. Now? Well, now I’d do it for free.