Keen on Teens
“I always heard my teens talking about how smelly or crazy the homeless in the libraries were,” says Rebecca Renard, charged with teen employment for District of Columbia Public Library’s (DCPL) 26 branches through its Teens of Distinction and Summer Youth Employment programs. “As I began researching homelessness, I discovered that the majority of violent crimes against the homeless are committed by teens.”
Renard responded proactively to the unsettling discovery by creating a program in which teens interviewed and took photographic portraits of the homeless denizens of the library. The nine-month initiative, carried out in partnership with the National Coalition for the Homeless, resulted in the library exhibit “Your Story Has a Home Here” (digital gallery).
Such bold moves are what make Renard a brilliant inspiration for, manager of, and advocate for DC youth. Using her background in teaching and media production to motivate the youth in her employ, which can number over 100 during the summer, Renard has spearheaded such projects as a teen radio program, with mentors from NPR helping with the writing, news reporting, and blogging; a Book Buddies program pairing teens with children; and a choreographed library flash mob video, “Read It,” spoofing Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”.
All this illustrates Renard’s approach of “creating environments where young people feel welcomed and supported—where they find structure and possibility,” she says. Renard coaches DCPL employees on embracing the “big, loud, awkward” nature of teenhood, says Nancy Davenport, DCPL’s director of library services. “Some branch managers were reluctant to have teens working for them. Now, they ask for teens.”