York County Libraries is proud to announce that it has won two 2019 Pennsylvania Library Association (PALA) Best Practices Awards for the teen initiative, the Youth Empowerment Summit (YES). Martin Library Teen Forum Manager Jennifer Johnson accepted the awards on behalf of the library’s Teen Leadership Committee and York County Libraries at the association’s annual conference.
YCL has the distinguished honor of being the first recipient of the Humanities in Action Award, a new award presented by PALA in partnership with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. In addition, YCL brought home the coveted David J. Roberts EXCEL Library Services Award, which recognizes the ‘Best’ of the “Best Practices” award winners. Congratulations to Jennifer Johnson, the Teen Services Staff, and the Teen Leadership Committee for your commendable work!
We caught up with Jennifer Johnson at Martin Library to learn more about this award-winning program. Here is what she had to say:
What is YES?
The Youth Empowerment Summit (YES) is a day of workshops for high school students grades 9-12 designed to stimulate awareness of the different college and career opportunities that are available to them. High school students from across York County are invited and register for workshops held throughout Martin Library. The Teen Leadership Committee (TLC) at Martin Library is involved in every step of the process, so the event is created and informed by teens throughout. It remains focused on the interests and needs of teens—which is sometimes different to what the adults expect.
The TLC helps plan the workshops, works to get speakers and presenters, and arranges for setup, teardown, and catering for the event (all supported by library staff). The day of the event, it is key is that the teens actually run the event. The keynote speaker is always a young adult author and so far, every author requested has kindly made the trip into York. Local professionals do workshops on their areas of expertise, all related to a theme or goal chosen by the TLC.
YES is newly “themed” because of the ownership of the Teen Leadership Committee. We have found that this connects the whole event better—the current group of teens on the Teen Leadership Committee is particularly interested in ideas surrounding social justice. This input has made YES more purposeful. The theme then leads into the types of workshops offered.
Why should teens attend?
With YES, York County Libraries offers something unique from what students get in schools. It’s not just another College Readiness workshop. Presenters are asked to speak about their careers, but particularly to express the ‘why’ of their careers, not just the what. This shows the teens attending why real people pursue those different career paths and brings the career down to a more accessible level. It helps the attendees envision themselves pursuing the same career path.
Another big takeaway is that teens don’t realize the opportunities available to them (for free!) at the library… The library is not in their minds, and they are missing out. YES changes their perceptions of the library as a resource.
What have you learned by administering this program?
Don’t underestimate teens! People shouldn’t be surprised that teens can and do speak with passion and clarity if they are given a platform to speak from. They have worthwhile things to say, and we should listen.
What have teens running the program learned?
Always—always–something goes wrong. Have a Plan B. A Plan C. Plan D. Keep going! Modeling this to teens is impactful. They learn that failure is not the end! And sometimes what follows is better than what you originally planned.
What do you want people to understand about YES?
In general: This allows us to start that conversation about teens’ place in society. I want people and teens to understand that they can effect real change in the world, given the right support and circumstances.
Where and when does YES take place?
YES has settled in to an all-day event on the last Wednesday of March. This way it doesn’t interfere with testing in schools (all attendees are grades 9-12).
How can people support YES?
Spreading the word is key. Parents, teachers, administrators, PLEASE let your teens come! And in the meantime, come with your teens to the library—you don’t need to wait until March to see what your library has to offer you.