SPECIAL REPORT: Library hopes to spark lively discussions with at-risk teens


    WSBT 22

    Books are always a good topic of conversation.

    The St. Joseph County Public Library wants to strengthen its relationship with kids at the Juvenile Justice Center with book discussions. They're doing it with a grant called the Great Stories Club.

    The grant provides books for discussions working with under-served or at risk teens. All of the books deal with empathy. The library hopes the books will relate to the kids’ lives and spark good discussions.

    There are so many books, so little time.

    The kids at the JJC get about 20 minutes a day to look through the book shelves at the JJC library. The library is treated as a reward for good behavior.

    Stephanie Cukrowicz the Mental Health Clinician thinks it’s also great for their mental health.

    “It helps them pass the time while they’re here. It helps them stay mentally positive and focused and get through their time so when they’re released, they’re on the right foot,” said Cukrowicz.

    The books in the JJC’s library were provided by the county library.

    “My coworker had visited here and kind of helped update the library,” said Cukrowicz.

    When employees at the library found out how much the JJC appreciated the books, they wanted to discuss some of the books with the kids.

    “They read a lot while they’re here," said Missy Maeyens, Youth Services Assistant Manager. "They’re always willing to talk about books, so I thought it would be nice to actually read a book together and do a discussion."

    The library started doing book discussions in 2018. That same year, it was awarded a grant by the American Library Association.

    All of the books in the program engage teens who are facing challenges and tough situations.

    “I was really impressed," said Maeyens. "They really took it to heart. They were ready to discuss the book when we came in. They were engaged, they had a lot of thoughtful comments and we had some really good conversations about what they had read."

    The kids at the JJC are gaining knowledge through the discussions. The discussions are also beneficial to their mental health.

    “They’re already asking when the next one is. It was really positive they responded positively to it,” said Cukrowicz.

    The library’s goal for this program is to make the kids at the JJC find a love for reading.

    “We really want to keep working on strengthening our relationship with the JJC, and the residents here, and connecting them to the library in the future. Because we want to let them know it’s a resource if they need something if they want to read. If they want to check out books, they know they can connect with that and know where to go,” said Maeyens.

    The library will continue to do these discussions through 2019 in hopes to really make an impact on these kids’ lives.

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