At the beginning of summer, parents everywhere ask the same question: how on earth are we supposed to keep our kids occupied (and out of trouble) for the next three months? Anna and Ryan Gergetz made this dilemma much easier for their parents when they decided to spend their summer break volunteering at the West Bend Community Memorial Library.
Aged thirteen and fifteen respectively, Anna and Ryan were not alone in their decision. In fact, this summer, seventy other young people volunteered alongside them. Some of these teens helped run children’s events, while others worked behind the scenes to keep the summer reading program running smoothly. Meanwhile, Anna and Ryan manned the reading booth, signing children up for the summer reading program and getting them prizes once they met their reading goals.
For these two siblings (and many of the other volunteers), working at the library is the perfect first ‘job.’ After all, the hours are short, the schedule accommodating, and the work itself simple. Nonetheless, on busier days, a job at the library can be something of a baptism by fire for the young volunteers. In Ryan’s words, “it gets kind of chaotic when there’s a lot of people.” Needless to say, this atmosphere can become very stressful for someone who’s never had a job before.
To add to the pressure, their clientele is mainly young children. Though most of the kids are “super nice,” Anna says that working with them for an entire three-hour shift can get to be exhausting.
Nevertheless, on days like today, their work environment is much calmer. Now that the summer reading program is drawing to a close, it’s much less busy than it was at the beginning of the summer. While the volunteers at the reading booth wait for ‘customers,’ they’re free to kick back and read a book of their own. Ryan and Anna both agree that this is the best part of the job. “We always bring our favorite books,” says Ryan, gesturing to his copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Likewise, Anna holds up a Percy Jackson sequel, Blood of Olympus.
During these more laid-back shifts, when the two siblings aren’t reading, they’re making friends with their fellow volunteers. Though the group of teenagers working at the library is a diverse one, Anna and Ryan agree that they all share the same supportive, approachable demeanor. According to Anna, this makes it easy to bond-and she’s grateful for that. After all, reading booth volunteers are given a random partner at every shift, and sitting in silence for three hours can get awkward (not to mention boring.) “You’re kind of forced to become friends,” Anna admits, laughing.
Though all the volunteers attend a brief training meeting at the beginning of summer, it’s crucial for them to rely on each other (and their ‘boss,’ teen librarian Hannah Kane) for help as they’re starting to figure out their new job. Since Anna and Ryan have been working at the library for two years now, they are excellent at helping “the newbies,” as Anna calls them.
According to the siblings, all of these “newbies” come to volunteer at the library for different reasons. For example, some join the staff to gain valuable experience for future jobs; others simply come because they love reading and want something to do during the summer. “I’m volunteering for service hours at the high school,” says Ryan. Then, he points to his sister, chuckling. “She kind of got dragged into it,” he jokes. He goes on to explain that all the children in their family volunteered for the library at some point. Their elder sister, Rachel, started the tradition, and Ryan continued it soon after her, followed lastly by Anna.
Though volunteering at the library wasn’t her idea initially, Anna admits that she has grown to enjoy it. Her brother appreciates her presence there too. “If you volunteer with your sibling, it’s a lot more fun,” he says.
Even if the pair didn’t volunteer at the library, their summer schedules would still be packed. “I do fiddle camp, and I do volleyball, and I babysit a lot too,” says Anna. Similarly, her brother reports, “I do summer gym and a lot of outdoor work.” Once school starts again next month, their schedules will get even busier. Ryan will be a sophomore at West Bend East, and Anna will be an 8th grader at Badger Middle School. She’s excited for the school year to start again; her brother is less so.
Though this year’s summer reading program is coming to a close, both Ryan and Anna look forward to volunteering again next summer. When asked to elaborate on the positive experiences they have gained from working at the library, the list they come up with is lengthy. Volunteering, they said, made them more confident in their “people skills;” it helped them make new friends; it gave them incentive to read more; and it served as a summer activity that felt both meaningful and productive.
For these two teenagers, volunteering at the library isn’t just about the service hours. Instead, it’s their means of interacting with their community, as well as their peers, in a constructive, meaningful way.
If you or a young person in your life would like to do the same, you don’t have to wait until next summer. In fact, the library accepts teen volunteers all year round. Sign up to volunteer during the school year here, or apply to join our teen advisory board here!
Gergetz, Anna and Ryan. “Interview with Summer Reading Program Volunteers.” 29 July 2019.