Photo courtesy of the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library.
Humanities Support Youth Mental Health Services During Pandemic
Jessica Kiefer, head children's librarian at Greensburg Hempfield Area Library

Centerville Clinics’ Partial Hospitalization program for young adults experiencing mental health issues includes medication management, therapy sessions, and humanities activities and discussions through Teen Reading Lounge at Greensburg Hempfield Area Library. This new library-clinic partnership was developed by Jessica Kiefer, head children's librarian, who saw an opportunity to provide additional resources and support from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) to youth in the treatment program during the pandemic.

“Libraries are so poorly underfunded, and schools are so poorly funded, but these guys really had nothing,” said Kiefer. “Very, very limited resources.”

Teen Reading Lounge (TRL) is PHC’s award-winning, nontraditional book club for youth that has been implemented at libraries and schools across Pennsylvania. Participants work together to co-create the reading list for their program sites and, with support from trained facilitators, design creative and civic engagement projects together. 

In response to COVID-19, Teen Reading Lounge activities moved online but facilitators statewide have managed to keep youth involved with the program through virtual book discussions, projects, and events.

Teen Reading Lounge participants created necklaces and keychains inspired by the Lockwood & Co. book series.

At Greensburg Hempfield Area Library, activities have included creating necklaces inspired by the Lockwood & Co. book series, a self-reflective collage project where teens shared stories and a Zoom meeting with author A. S. King, winner of the American Library Association’s Printz Award for her young adult novel Dig

“She really listened to the kids and made them feel seen and heard,” said Kiefer. 

With funding from PHC, the library purchased $500 in new books for the hospitalization program’s small library. The teens also received individual boxes with books and other gifts along with a personalized letter from library staff. 

Teen Reading Lounge participants received individual boxes with books and other gifts along with a personalized letter from library staff.

On-going research from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit shows Teen Reading Lounge to be a beneficial program for young people in a variety of community settings, supporting healthy social-emotional development and other key life skills, but this is the first time it has integrated with mental health services. In adjusting the program, Greensburg Hempfield Area Library made thoughtful book selections that are sensitive to youth who experienced trauma and HIPPA regulations prevented taking photos of the teens.

Overall, participants engaged in the same deep humanities discussions, sharing of feelings, and creative projects as other sites -- important personal interactions that are especially crucial for young people during the extended periods of isolation created by the pandemic.  

Inspired by their readings and discussions, youth at the Teen Reading Lounge painted tea cups and held a tea party.

“In our program evaluation last year, we saw across all of our TRL sites that the most reported outcome was that students were better able to express their thoughts and feelings to others,” said Julia Terry, PHC’s education program officer. “Books are a powerful jumping off point for students to reflect on and share their own beliefs, concerns, and dreams in a safe and supportive environment.”

Rosemary Sovyak, Teen Reading Lounge facilitator at Greensburg Hempfield Area Library.

One of the more popular activities at the Teen Reading Lounge group was painting a tea set at the Pottery Playhouse followed by a tea party, which was inspired by conversations about the book The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. 

“We had so much fun with the kids and they were so responsive,” said Rosemary Sovyak, a retired teacher and guidance counselor who helps facilitate the program.

Some of the young people were hesitant about participating at first but soon became hooked on the stories and discussions.

“A student told me that before going to [Centerville Clinics’ Partial Hospitalization program] she never wanted to join or participate in any activities, but she has enjoyed TRL so much that she wanted to come to the library,” said Kiefer. “They were excited about future programs and thanked me a lot.”



Teen Reading Lounge is  made possible by Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services administered by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, Department of Education, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor.  Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, generous individuals, foundations, and corporations.



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