More Great Stories about the Great Stories CLUB!

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published on the YALSA blog. Thanks to YALSA and Angie Manfredi for letting us share this with you!

There’s still time for you to apply for a Great Stories CLUB Grant! The Great Stories CLUB is a unique opportunity for you to reach out to underserved teens in your community and connect them with stories that can matter in their lives and open up their eyes to new horizons.

The theme for the Great Stories CLUB is “New Horizons.” When we challenge ourselves to go beyond our familiar surroundings, we can often discover new horizons and strengths within ourselves. New horizons also present themselves when we are willing to explore a larger universe. These stories (One of Those Hideous Books Where The Mother Dies, The Afterlife, and Rules of Survival) are about teens who discovered new horizons in their lives and in the world.

To give you a better idea of what a Great Stories CLUB Grant can mean for the teens in your community, some past participants in the program have volunteered to discuss their experiences. These first-hand stories give you a closer look at what the Great Stories CLUB grant can do. Kathleen Browning, the Adult Services Coordinator with Farmington Public Library in Farmington, New Mexico, is sharing her library’s story with us today.

For more information on the Great Stories CLUB, including guidelines, book descriptions, application instructions, and even more feedback from past participants, visit the Great Stories website. Online applications will be accepted through November 2.

Now, for Kathleen’s story—wherein a teenager actually chooses a book over free food! Can it be?!

Why did you decide to apply for the Great Stories CLUB?

In the library one day, I chatted with the guidance counselor at the local alternative high school about the successful sustained silent reading program they had recently implemented. We talked about how we might get the kids into the library, and discussed some of the challenges that many of them face, such as lacking the required identification to get a library card due to not having a permanent address. I couldn’t get what she shared with me out of my mind, that some of the kids are essentially homeless, and do what they call “couch surfing,” staying at one friend or another’s house until the parents tired of this and they had to move on to another. So when I learned about the Great Stories Club grant, I approached my director about waiving the identification requirement to ensure that this would not serve as a barrier to kids who might want to participate, should we get the grant. We actually ended up starting the program before we were awarded the grant, as we both felt so strongly about the importance of this type of program for these seriously at-risk kids.

What organization did your library partner with?

We partnered (and continue to partner) with Rocinante High School, Farmington’s alternative high school.

How many students participated in the Great Stories CLUB through your library?

We registered 23 kids last semester (Spring ’09) and we’ve registered 24 kids this semester (Fall ’09). We lost only a handful of kids last session, for various reasons such as transferring to another school, having a baby, and one student was expelled.

What were some benefits from the Great Stories CLUB grant that you never initially expected?

I never expected the total buy-in of these kids, the thrill they expressed at being able to belong to such a club, and the word of mouth that made the fall session a wait-listed activity. Oh, and the gratitude of the kids for being able to keep the books; that was big.

What books seemed to really engage Great Stories CLUB participants?

At the end of the session, we asked kids to fill out a survey about the program, which I used to prepare the ALA final report. On the survey, kids mentioned Hole In My Life as being the favorite of all the titles they read. Interestingly, this book was a supplemental title we used from the first round of grants “Choices” theme, as we wanted to read four books over the course of the session rather than the three “Breaking Boundaries"–themed titles that we were awarded through the second round grant.

Can you share some comments or a special story from your Great Stories CLUB experience?

A meaningful comment from the surveys collected is this (in response to the question “Do you discuss books differently since participating in the GreatStories Club?”): the student checked the “Yes” box, and commented “It just makes me feel smarter.” I was very gratified at one of the meetings when we conducted a drawing and a student, given the choice between a book and a Sonic meal card, chose the book. And after we read what was a somewhat tough read for some of the kids, Luna, several kids commented that they thought differently about the subject matter (being transgender) and that they would be more open to kids who are different.

What would you tell librarians interested in applying for a Great Stories CLUB grant?

If you are looking for a feel-good program that could succeed beyond your dreams, apply for a Great Stories Club grant. Use not only hard demographics, but also anecdotal information when applying for the grant. I used the comments made by the school counselor about “couch surfing” for the first grant application, and in this latest round I used some comments made by the students on reflection sheets that the counselor collected from the kids, including talk of parents in prison, parents with substance issues, students caring for younger siblings. Anything that will support the notion of “at-risk” youth.

Thanks so much for sharing, Kathleen!

Still not sure about participating in the Great Stories CLUB? Here’s what Kathleen Browning added as a comment to the original blog post:

We are so proud to be a part of this inspiring program, and proud of our student participants. I’m visiting our local Rotary group with my director today to give a presentation on our Great Stories CLUB. And on Saturday, a letter to the editor written by our kids was published in the Farmington Daily Times. Thank you again, YALSA and ALA. If you’re a librarian vacillating on applying for the grant, just do it! The rewards are many …

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