Des Moines' South Side Library program offers teens opportunities to learn while giving back

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For the last five years, Janee Jackson-Doering has devoted her working hours — and then some — to coordinating teen volunteers at Des Moines' South Side Library.

Jackson-Doering said the program answers questions teens might have about the library and introduces them to services they can use after school.

"They just kind of want to know what we do here at the library, so we give them projects and tasks that teach them about the library world while they are learning skills that they can use in the real world," she said.

The South VolunTeens program is open to students ages 12-18 from 4-5 p.m. twice a month throughout the school year. Similar programs also exist at the Des Moines Public Library and the Franklin Avenue Library.

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Many of the students participate to earn hours for their silver chords through Des Moines Public Schools, Jackson-Doering said. Students must volunteer for a total of 120 hours through their high school careers to earn the chord.

However, the VolunTeens program has benefits beyond students' volunteer hours and even their graduation, she said. Students have returned to the library to check out books or DVDs, use the library's databases and resources or ask for scholarship recommendations.

"It's been really cool to see those teens that you have helped mentor and see them grow as a volunteer come back later on," she said. "They understand how important the library is and what the library can do for them, and then they're able to share that information with other teens or other people."

During their volunteer hour, students help pack storytime bags for younger children, remove or place stickers on books or prepare crafts for kids.

The program can currently accommodate 10 students in the library's meeting room, which still allows for some distancing amid the ongoing pandemic.

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Jackson-Doering said she enjoys leading the program because she's able to give students opportunities to give back to their community while teaching them about libraries. Several have even asked about a career in library services after volunteering.

"It's connecting them to reading, it's connecting them to books and it's connecting them to helping others and learning about how to give back to other people," she said of the program. "It's very cool to see them grow and progress."

To participate, teens must submit an application and waiver signed by a parent or guardian. The applications are available at the South Side Library's information desk.

Individuals interested in learning more about the program can visit dmpl.org or contact Jackson-Doering at jmjackson-doering@dmpl.org.

Sarah LeBlanc covers the western suburbs for the Register. Reach her at 515-284-8161 or sleblanc@registermedia.com. Follower her on Twitter at @sarahkayleblanc

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Des Moines libraries' volunteer programs helps teens give back

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