TeenSpace: Circle of Mentoring
California’s Santa Ana Public Library considers itself a “community-responsive” library that is willing to go beyond “business as usual” to identify and help meet the changing needs of the people it serves. In recent years, one of the most critical issues was finding a way to serve the growing numbers of teens and young adults, many from low-income Hispanic families, who were coming to the library seeking information on how to make the transition into adulthood.
“Young people want a better life for themselves. They want to get a job. They want to go to college. But many come from new immigrant families and have parents who don’t know how to help them navigate the system,” explains Cheryl Eberly, the young adult and volunteer services principal librarian.
In 2009, the library responded by launching an ambitious initiative called TeenSpace: Circle of Mentoring. It’s not a single program, but rather an umbrella for an array of classes, workshops, services, and activities that strengthen participants’ workforce, academic, and life skills. The following are among the many areas of focus.
Digital media training: With the assistance of a federal Workforce Investment Act grant, the library partnered with a local community college to provide 20 young people with paid video-production training. Participants produce educational videos and PSAs that air on the city’s government access channel.
Educational development: Through a federal Community Development Block Grant, the library hired 20 college students and graduates to work as part-time tutors and mentors. They provide academic tutoring and lead workshops on GED and college-admission test preparation, among other topics.
Life-skills development: Library staff and community volunteers lead practical classes that range from food preparation and money management, to entrepreneurship and job-search skills.
The Circle of Mentoring program serves 400 tweens, teens, and young adults annually. Eberly notes that the library’s mentoring and support services enable young people to dream of—and realize—better futures. For example, with the library’s help, about 85 percent of the high school dropouts who were involved with the program have earned a high school diploma or GED. In addition, 95 percent of participants with college aspirations have been admitted to college.
The Santa Ana Public Library has an established reputation as a place where the aspirations and futures of disadvantaged youth are nurtured. The growth and development of their many TeenSpace programs, providing education and mentorship for Santa Ana teens and young adults, is a model for libraries in similar communities.Lilia Tanakeyowma Dean of Student Affairs, Santa Ana College