The St. Charles City-County Library District’s Outreach service bring programs into the St. Charles County Juvenile Justice Center
Mindy Schmidt confessed that she was pretty anxious the first time she walked into 1700 S. River Road in St. Charles.
As part of the St. Charles City-County Library District’s Outreach service, Schmidt was on the maiden voyage to bring programs into a serious situation, the St. Charles County Juvenile Justice Center which houses teenagers who have violated the law.
With a credo of “if the young people at the Justice Center can’t make it to the library for instruction, the library will come to them,” twice a month either Schmidt or Elizabeth Lippoldt, both youth paraprofessionals with the SCCLD, bring in a program to the facility. After entering through a metal detector and a quick count of pens and a search for any other item that could be used in either a ruse for escape or to injure someone never make it through, the day’s project begins.
“I was a little nervous. I didn’t know what to expect,” Schmidt said. “I was thinking more harder shell kids, more of ‘who are you?’ and it’s not like that. It’s more like average kids who come into the library.”
Schmidt is closing on 13 years with the district, and this is her third summer in the position of Youth Paraprofessional at McClay. Lippoldt has been at the Kathryn-Linnemann branch in the same position for almost two years. They visit and provide resources for the teens and the JJC classroom teacher. During the summer months when the JJC school is not in session, their visits are especially welcomed, when DVDs, board games and books are the only items on the entertainment menu.
“We’re trying to create connections with the kids,” Lippoldt said. “It’s not really about, ‘this is the library, and when you leave here, you can go to the library.’ Libraries are changing and are trying more to meet the community where they are at. If the community is not coming into the library, we figure out where they are at and go to them. So we’re basically bringing the library to them as far as programming. A lot of the stuff we’re doing is programs that we do with teens who come here. We’re just taking it there.”
Schmidt and Lippoldt aren’t teachers, and they aren’t there to teach a specific subject, but instead they present a variety of ideas that the teens don’t have exposure to. One week may be Lego maze and building challenges. The next, snap circuits and Raspberry Pis. Another session featured a Money Smart Reality Fair with help from Vantage Credit Union. There have been home gardening projects, a variety of art activities and lots of books. Even if they weren’t a reader when they come in, the teens learn to become one to help pass the time.
“Their last instructor would keep a record of how many pages they had read by the time they got out and it would in the thousands,” Lippoldt said.
Some days, when maybe the program is getting through, being an honest soundboard and lending a neutral ear is the best way their hour session is served.
“A lot of times it’s just listening because I don’t think a lot of those kids come from backgrounds where people are listening to them, and they’re in a situation where nobody is going to listen to them,” Lippoldt said. “Sometimes they will open up and share with you, and you try to let them know that they are going to come through all of this.”
The pair received reaffirmation at an annual dinner where not only were they invited to attend but had their table decorated, personal thank you cards made out to them and some even got up and talked. It was an eye-opening experience on how the littlest things that they are exposed to influences the teens.
“That meant a lot because sometimes you go and you don’t feel like you’re reaching anyone,” Schmidt said. “And then after the dinner, we stayed and played card games, and that felt like you were reaching them on a personal level without being an authoritative figure. You just got to sit and play.”
The duo said that the JJC is always looking for outside volunteers to come in and donate their time or experience or anything they may specialize in and that the library they do have is limited on space, so they are trying to get book carts and shelving for them.
For more information, you can contact the JJC at 636-949-3040. For the latest on what’s happening, visit the library website youranswerplace.org.
CUTLINE: Cover-Library1 Photo by Brett Auten Elizabeth Lippoldt (left) and Mindy Schmidt are shown here in the recently revamped Teen Lounge at the McClay Road Library. Lippoldt and Schmidt are part of the Youth Services team from the St. Charles City-County Library who make regular visits to the St. Charles County Juvenile Justice Center to provide outreach classes to the young people serving time there.
Cover-Library 2-4 Submitted photos The St. Charles City-County Library District’s Outreach service bring programs into the St. Charles County Juvenile Justice Center which houses teenagers who have violated the law.
By Brett Auten