November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Youth Mentoring Program at Santa Ana Library Takes National Program Award

TeenSpace Circle for Mentoring representatives Josue Rodriguez Espinoza (center) and Cheryl Eberly (right) accept the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo credit: Steven E. Purcell

Josue Rodriguez Espinoza (center) and Cheryl Eberly (right) accept the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award on November 10, 2014  from First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo credit: Steven E. Purcell

Cheryl Eberly, principal librarian of young adult services at the Santa Ana (CA) Public Library (SAPL), was once the library’s historian-archivist, and in recent history, Eberly tells SLJ that she traveled to Washington, D.C., to accept the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program (NAHYP) Award for SAPL’s Circle of Mentoring (COM) Program from First Lady Michelle Obama with 18-year-old Josue Rodriguez Espinoza.

Espinoza, who moved to Santa Ana from Mexico when he was three-years-old and will graduate from high school this spring, is both a mentor and a mentee in SAPL’s COM Program.

“I enjoyed being a mentor,” he tells School Library Journal in an email, “because I saw all the positive results from it. The children [I tutored] began to show a high interest in learning and seemed to look forward to homework time.”

Santa Ana’s teen mentoring program was recognized alongside 11 other programs for the nation’s highest honor in outstanding after-school and out-of-school arts and humanities programs helping underserved communities, presented by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

“It is a tremendous honor and a validation for all the hard work and dedication that youth, mentors, community, and staff have put into this rather non-traditional program,” says Eberly, who says that participants of COM have a “98 percent high school graduation rate.”

Circle of Mentoring

CircleofMentoring3

Josue Rodriguez Espinoza hugs it out with First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards ceremony at the White House on November 10, 2014. Photo credit: Steve Purcell

Eberly explains that COM itself is not one specific program, but more of an umbrella approach based on a system of supportive relationships between teens and caring adults and teens and children they mentor.

“It’s the foundation of all [of our] other young adult programs,” explains Eberly, who heads COM.

COM’s pedagogy is based on three core principles: providing a safe space, providing caring mentors (usually adults from community or teens who graduated program), and giving opportunities for kids to do meaningful things in the community. All of SAPL’s programs are “community responsive,” says Eberly and are geared toward providing participants with job and life skills, mentorship, and civic engagement.

Community responsive programs, including the Seeds to Trees Digital Media Academy program, now beginning its fourth year, which provides at-risk young adults with educational training and work experience in digital media technology and an oral history collection project, Memories of Migration, where teens are trained to gather oral histories from Santa Ana’s large immigrant community to be stored on a digital platform, are among the approximately 35−40 teen programs taking place at TeenSpace locations (dedicated teen spaces in the library) per week.

The programming is funded by a series of grants, however Eberly, reveals that she didn’t start out knowing how to write grants. She’d applied for a fellowship with the Eureka! Leadership Institute, a five-day intensive professional development program sponsored by the California State Library, in 2008, and one of the panels at Eureka! was learning how to write grants—and the rest is history.

In 2009, she got a $60,000 grant from the Library Services and Technology Act that got her library early learning laptops, Kindles, and zip cameras, for every library department. The same year, she got a $50,000 International City/County Management Association Public Library Innovation grant that bought 20 new laptops for TeenSpace. In 2010, she received the Laura Bush 21st-Century Library Grant for $600,000 spread over three years, which went toward library student summer internships, library paraprofessional development, and library school scholarships, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant for Libraries for $550,000, which is funding the Memories of Migration project.

While knowing how to write grants helps, Eberly says that teen programming isn’t “a numbers game, but [it’s] an impact game.”

Espinoza, who has been a part of TeenSpace since he was 10-years-old, shares the impact COM has had on his life in an email to SLJ:

“At the age of ten, my greatest interest was a video game I play until this day, Runescape. I never thought about setting future goals for myself, I simply thought about improving in the game. Since, at the time, my brother and I didn’t have internet, we would go to the Santa Ana Public Library to play the game and got kicked out of the computer lab, because the game was categorized as a violent game. Getting kicked out is what led to [my] joining TeenSpace… TeenSpace was the new place I was able to play my game. Since I was at TeenSpace almost every day, I soon began to get involved with the programs…That’s where I met my present mentor, Aura Carrillo; the reason why we got along so well was because she played the game as well. I had finally found a place where people had similar interests as [mine].”

He goes on to write:

“I kept attending TeenSpace, and it quickly became a second home to me… During those days I didn’t know what I wanted to be but I knew that the success for every child [I mentored] was something I wanted to see. Listening to a great music artist, Lady Gaga, talk about the power of music sparked something in me. Later seeing her perform and use music to lead the world to something she believes in made got me highly interested in music. Little by little, my interest grew, and soon I did anything possible to be in a musical environment. I talked to my mentor about music becoming an interest and soon things were starting to become what I wanted them to [be]. [One] mentor from TeenSpace [went out] her way to take piano lessons with me, and another mentor gave me a keyboard to practice at home. I attended a school that lacked a music program so transferring out of the high school was something I didn’t really want to do, but I was craving music, so I did. I now attend Santa Ana High School and [I am] happy to say that 2015 is my graduating year.”

With this NAHYP prize of $10,000, Eberyl says, “We will continue focusing on digital media and STEM skills, but we are also adding a new focus on video game development, animation, a Teen Civic Leadership Institute, and forming an e-gaming team for League of Legends, and going full scale on our Memories of Migration oral history project.”

“The library can’t be just a place where kids can just hang out,” says Eberly. “It has to be a place where it can help you.”

Tips for starting your own mentorship program

  • Fulfill a need: Ask teens what they want.
  • Find the willing mentors and participants, first.
  • Look around for natural mentors within your own staff, including circulation staff, the page staff, people whom the young adults gravitate toward—those are the people you ask to be mentors.
  • If you’re at a community-response library, look for practical partnerships for programming, i.e. community colleges, to create programs to teach life skills such as applying for financial aid and college applications,
  • Look for programs that will bring the relationships back to the library, i.e. the Seeds to Trees program introduced young adults to the library profession and gave them real work hours and experience. “We have hired many youth as pages, tutors, clerks, senior tutors, and library assistants,” says Eberly. “Three of the previous [Seeds to Trees] program participants are currently pursuing their MLIS in hope of becoming librarians.”
  • Don’t do it alone: “My supervisor was really good at helping with the [grant] writing,” says Eberly.
  • When grant writing, be explanatory: “Be able to articulate your objective, program design, and explain your budget,” instructs Eberly.
  • Measure in in impact, not numbers: “You’re investing in people,” explains Eberly. “Don’t be discouraged. Young adult librarians get discouraged, because only two teens show up. Focus on the [long-term] impact.”

To apply for the 2015 Youth Program Awards

New applicants are invited to apply for the 2015 NAHYP Awards presented by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The deadline for application submissions is Monday, February 2.

Check out the eligibility criteria and how to apply.

Carolyn Sun About Carolyn Sun

Carolyn Sun was a news editor at School Library Journal. Find her on Twitter @CarolynSSun.

Share

Comments

  1. Makes ya think