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Teens across Long Island are finding ways to help others and earn community service hours — all from the safety and comfort of their homes.
“I have written letters to essential workers thanking them for their service,” says 17-year-old Brooke Wexler of Bohemia. "Some of the letters I wrote were to the Oakdale Post Office employees,” as she worries that “many times they are not always recognized during all of this.”
She wrote the letters after learning that the Connetquot Public Library was offering online community service hours via its “#LibraryAtHome” program. Originally expecting to need such hours as part of her obligations to her school’s honor societies, Wexler says the reasons behind her actions have evolved: “It has always been important to me to continue my service and volunteerism, as well as to just feel as though I can help someone in some way during this uncertain time.”
While many Long Island libraries had already been offering opportunities for students to earn their hours, the Levittown, Wantagh, Farmingdale, Longwood, Port Jefferson, Sachem and West Islip public libraries are among those which have since added online or virtual options. Teens should contact each library to see if the advertised opportunities are open to people living outside corresponding school districts.
'Social Distancing Challenge'
One, in particular, the East Hampton Library, is also tailoring its online programs to how younger people connect to the online world. “I was already following the Young Adult Instagram page,” notes 17-year-old East Hampton resident Wells Woolcott, in reference to his local library’s social media “and was subsequently one of the first to find out about the ‘Social Distancing Challenge’ and the associated online community service hours.”
Recognizing that teens tend to lean toward Instagram these days, the East Hampton Library has created a chance to earn hours through the app (instagram.com/ya_easthamptonlibrary) with that aforementioned challenge, which consists of a list of tasks that award community service. “The tasks range from sharing with the library one goal you have for the week, to organizing a donation bin to help people in need,” explains Woolcott, the latter of which earns students three community service hours, as well as points that can also lead to prizes for the patron who can accumulate the most … I think that activities like these are really helpful to teens who might be struggling to adjust to the norms of social distancing.”
Health care donations
Fifteen-year-old Jericho resident Sujay Sundar has taken another — and more hands-on — approach to earning his hours. Working with his 11-year-old sister Sahana Sundar, they made 200 face shields at home to share with first responders and health care workers, and he says, “We have reached out to the Jericho Fire Department and hope to donate most of these this week. These face shields were made at home using headbands and transparent Poly Sheet protectors.”
Sundar learned about the library’s online community hours through the Jericho Public Library’s Facebook page, which pointed him toward Theresa’s Programs (theresasprograms.com), a business that creates projects that either raise money slated for donation to animal shelters or to help students earn community service credit. For online hours-earning purposes, teens can view a video related to community projects then contact the owner of Theresa’s Programs, who then sends them a letter confirming if they’ve earned two hours.
Students are not always expected to physically create all the projects — as some require supplies that aren’t often found in homes — but the hours can instead be earned just by learning about how they can help others.
“I found out that the library was offering online community service opportunities through Facebook,” notes 16-year-old Southold resident Danielle Henry, referring to how the Mattituck-Laurel Library is offering an opportunity to earn two community service hours — also in conjunction with Theresa’s Programs — by reading about pit bulls, and then responding to a related quiz.
“I had to write a few short sentences in order to demonstrate my newly learned information to my librarian,” says Henry, adding, “since many community service opportunities I planned to participate in have been canceled, I needed to look for other avenues."
While some libraries only have locally-based opportunities, teens can take part in Theresa’s Programs no matter where they reside.
“I needed to earn community service hours because I am a member of the National Junior Honors Society,” says 13-year-old Stephen Buff of Center Moriches. “My mom and I weren't sure if I still need to earn hours even though the school was closed … so I did the activity for fun and earned two hours for completing it.”
Buff also took on the Theresa’s Programs pit bull assignment, which was presented by the Center Moriches Free Public Library. “If we still had school and such I would be helping the Moriches Community Center by tutoring 4th graders after school for one hour,” he says. “I would recommend other people to try and earn community service hours online … It can be very fun, and you can do them right in your house.”