Finalist: Hilda Loh-Guan, University of Southern California
Empowering Urban Transitional Aged Youth via Strategic Partnerships
Many children use our public and school libraries, but unfortunately, as they become teens and young adults, they stop using our institutions. Somewhere along the way, they have determined libraries are not relevant to the pressures and stresses of their daily lives. Their “not-yet-strong” but powerful voices are lost in the din, and societal safety nets are slowing falling out of their reach as they age into adulthood. The County of Los Angeles term Transitional-Aged Youth (TAY) as individuals who are ages 16 – 25. Many of these are falling through the cracks and succumb to abuse disorders, homelessness, and mental illnesses.
While administrators and community members are aware of the plight of these young people, few are stepping out to outreach to these individuals effectively. Many community programs think they know what the TAY population needs, but few are actually talking to and engaging these youth. As government programs and institutions continue to work in silos, the TAY that have already been reached are not connected to other support programs and services in the community.
Urban public libraries play a unique role in our communities. As an institution to touts “all are welcome,” they are also the best place for innovative and strategic community partnerships. As a community gathering place and safe space with a foundation rooted in privacy and confidentiality, our institutions are prime candidates to facilitate services and connect with vulnerable TAY in a non-threatening way.
Art has a way of transcending age, ability, and culture. It displays our thoughts and feelings onto the medium of choice for the world to see. Art also has the ability to heal, foster a connection to others, and grant a reprieve from the demands and stress of everyday life.
My proposal involves a weekly drop-in art evening targeted to urban Transitional Aged Youth (TAY) ages 16 – 25 at the local library–or at another community accessible location. During this weekly event, TAY artist (participants) and staff will engage in casual conversations about what is going on–at school, at home, in the community–as they generate their art creations. Intended to be self-driven, participants will be encouraged to paint/draw/design something that captures their own interests or identity. Occasional professional artists may make an appearance to provide insights on urban street art, tattoo art, murals, and art entrepreneurship–just to keep the program interesting! These are not meant to be library lecture, they are more a vehicle for conversation. As the discussions emerge and reveal challenges, needs, and opportunities for service, library staff can offer to connect the TAY to available resources and programs in the community. TAY are not likely to directly ask for services on their own, but by learning about their lives and building trust, the library staff is hopeful that we will be able to get them to gain awareness and connect to available programs and services. Library staff will also compile a directory of services that TAY users can qualify for, so prompt and effective connections can be made to address major needs.
This program targets vulnerable TAY and individuals a part of the foster care and probation systems in the County. Outreach for participants will be conducted directly at the County of Los Angeles (or insert any city) juvenile halls, probation camps, mental health facilities, community services centers and the housing authority. Connections will also be made at local shelters, probation offices, and community-based organizations.
While the TAY are participating in the drop in workshops, library staff will aim to discover the priority needs and services the target group is looking for. Based on these discoveries, the library will identify other County departments, community organizations, and nonprofits whose mission and strategic plans best fit those criteria. The self-identified needs of the TAY population and the potential organization’s mission will drive which partners to pursue. One of the major outcomes of this proposal is to build collaborative relationships and partnerships that strengthen all involved. Through these partnerships, it is my goal to build and facilitate additional programs–perhaps mental health wellness workshops, literacy tutoring, mentoring, diplomacy through sports, etc.– all of which will be designed, implemented and evaluated collectively as partners. It is not a library thing; it is a community project to enhance the quality of life of the TAY population.