Volunteering during the summer doesn’t have to be all about the summer reading programs or getting all of the library’s books in perfect alphabetical order. At the Arlington Heights Memorial Library in Illinois, teens and staff alike get to show off a variety of skills in the Summer Volunteer Squad program. The Summer Volunteer Squad was created to give the library’s many teen volunteers the opportunity to volunteer meaningfully during their summer breaks. The program was modeled after a similar program at the nearby Oak Park (IL) Library.
Previous summer volunteer programs at the library gave teens few options in volunteering. The main focus was on staffing the summer reading table in the children’s department, with some time given to shelving or helping in the library’s drive-through window. The Traditionalists squad takes care of these responsibilities, but teens can also opt into a squad that lets them flex their creative and teaching muscles.
This summer’s other squads included Book Buds, which helped young kids with reading; Peewee Pollocks, which worked on art projects with two- to three-year-olds; STEM Squad, which provided STEM education to three- to five-year-olds; Kids Create, which worked on crafts with grade-school-aged kids; <code>breakers, which built a website to teach coding to all ages; and Sprout Squad, which tended a garden in the park district and presented at a local farmers market.
Each squad requires two staff members to lead the teen volunteers, so squad availability changes each summer based on staff availability. Youth Services staff run many of the squads, but staff from Digital Services ran the <code>breakers squad this summer, and previously, staff from the Genealogy Department have run a genealogy squad.
Together, the staff supervised 232 teens this summer, all of whom were required to apply online and come to the library for an interview. “This gives us an opportunity to make sure they understand what they are getting themselves into and that the squads they chose are really what they want,” said Lynne Priest, grade school programming specialist at Arlington Heights Memorial Library and coordinator of the Summer Volunteer Squad. All volunteers are accepted. Most volunteers join the Traditionalists and work the full ten-week summer. Each specialized squad has ten to twelve volunteers and runs for eight weeks. During the school year, students can volunteer through the library’s advisory boards for teens and tweens. Scheduling for the program is handled by Volgistics, a paid volunteer logistics service, which allows teens to sign up for and cancel their volunteer time slots online and squad staff to set the number of hours their volunteers can work.
For libraries looking to start a similar program, Priest says to get a feel for the community first and make sure that the kids are there and interested in helping. “The kids that come in can’t wait to work with little kids and help out,” Priest said.