Future of teen ‘safe space’ in Barre is uncertainJeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Charlene Booth, right, and Dakota Austin, both of Barre, get help from Aldrich Public Library young adult program manager Sarah Costa, center, in the library’s Teen Room on Wednesday.
BARRE — A new program that offers teens homework help, access to technology and more is going strong, according to its manager, but she says its first year could be its last if continued funding is not found.
Sarah Costa is the part-time manager of the Aldrich Public Library’s pilot program for teens. She was hired in January to supervise the teen room created on the second floor of the library as part of its expansion in 2000.
Costa said an average of 12 teens a day use the program. The teen room is a place to use computers, eat free snacks and, of course, read. She has also brought in special programs including a self-defense course put on by Barre police and a screening of a zombie movie made by Norwich University students.
But she said the biggest thing the program offers is a safe place for teens to come and be themselves.
“There aren’t a lot of options for that around here in terms of a supervised space that is still free and open to (teens),” she said.
The program was funded with $19,100 from Barre businessman Charlie Semprebon’s bequest to the city. That pays for Costa’s salary, special programs for teens and materials like computers, video games and new books. The money runs out at the end of December, and Costa said the library has agreed to pay her through its own budget until June so she can finish out the school year.
Costa is also the director of Calef Memorial Library in Washington.
She said the Aldrich is looking at numerous ways to keep the project going such as grants, support from AmeriCorps or simply incorporating the teen program into the library’s budget. She is optimistic the program will continue past June.
It is offered Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and Costa said she stays at the library those days until it closes. The room is open every day but is not staffed Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
She said the biggest draw is the free food such as cookies and milk, pizza, juice and crackers. The food comes from Spaulding High School and subsidized by the federal government since Barre is a high-need area.
A big focus for Costa has been technology. She said the library participated in Teen Tech Week, where the teens learned about hardware and what is actually inside a computer. Costa has also focused on Internet security for teens, helping them with areas such as protecting their passwords.
“(The teens) are digital natives, but they don’t always know the best way to use technology,” she said.
Costa is working on establishing a teen advisory board for the library that would meet once a month. The board would give teens a voice in what programs the library offers and what books it buys, as well as a chance to lead programming themselves. Costa said she has some teens who are interested in joining the board and hopes to have it up and running within the next month.
So far, Costa said, the program has been evolving based on what she is seeing and what the teens are asking for.
“It’s a totally different thing once the teens actually take ownership of (the program) and really direct things,” she said.
In the last year, the program has purchased a used iMac and flip cameras so teens can make movies. Costa said the next things on the technology list are upgrading the current computers in the teen room and investing in a video game system so the library can host gaming nights.
If the library does find the funding to continue the program, Costa said, she has no idea what the program could look like in five years. She said the needs and interests of the teens will be totally different.
“If this program is doing what it should be doing, it will adapt to that,” she said.
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