For teens and tweens interested in doing community service work, the Me:U Service Learning Club, which is always open to new members, may be just the experience they’re looking for.
Founded by Youth Services Outreach Librarian Regina Townsend in summer 2013, the Me:U Service Learning Club meets every Tuesday at 4 p.m. on the lower level of the Forest Park Public Library to talk about and plan service activities. Its members, which can range from age 11 to late teens, gather in the library’s Teen Room, eager to share their ideas and plan for the club’s next events. At the start of each meeting, the members review what they discussed the previous week, and look over the new events that have been added to the calendar.
Townsend had always enjoyed doing service projects, but she noticed the same wasn’t always true of everyone, especially preteens and teenagers. She figured this was probably because volunteer work was something they felt obligated to do, rather than something they themselves were interested in, especially for those who needed service hours for school. Townsend thinks kids should have a way to do projects that mean something to them. Her favorite part of running the program, she says, is getting to see teenagers come into their own.
“Teenagers kind of get a bad rap in communities,” says Townsend. “I feel like when they do something like a service project, it changes people’s perception of them, and it makes them see teenagers in a different light.”
This past Tuesday, Townsend met her socially-conscious teens on the lower floor of the Forest Park Library, in the main area rather than their usual meeting place of the Teen Room, because one of the club’s members was working at re-shelving books. The group that day consisted mostly of young men, and they were all full of energy and enthusiasm. Several teenagers came and went during the course of the meeting, stopping to briefly interject. This week’s topics were particularly lighthearted, but this isn’t always the case. Past meetings have led to ideas such as projects for World AIDS Day and breast cancer awareness, which one club member nicknamed “Hope for the Breast.”
More recently, the club collected gloves, as well as hats and scarves, to donate to West Suburban PADS, the local homeless shelter. The club is currently in the midst of planning several more events and projects: a talent show, a teen career clinic where they plan to talk about things such as writing a resumé and applying for a job, and an event in which the members will be debating opposing viewpoints in black history, to name a few.
The club’s activities are not limited to service, however. Me:U members also hold recreational events, such as their upcoming Bad Movie Night and an Anti-Valentine’s Day party. The group has a box where members can suggest songs to play at the party. When voting for the songs is over, the group will be voting on whether to get an Xbox or a PlayStation for the library first.
Of course, not everything about Me:U is easy. It can be challenging when the teens end up having conversations about unrelated topics, but Townsend finds that letting them talk about these things often organically leads into brilliant ideas.
Townsend gives teens a chance to help their community in ways they otherwise may not have even imagined.
Not only is Me:U for service, but the club’s existence is a service in itself. It is an empowering experience for teens who want to make a difference in the world but might not be sure how.