Arizona Teen Transforms into Community Activist through Library Grant Program
At 16, Bill Cook found himself adrift. With little to catch his interest in his rural hometown of Camp Verde, Bill found himself spending most of his free time at home, often by himself. “I was really kind of socially awkward, anxious, and not an extroverted person,” says Cook. “[I] really didn’t have any direction at that point.”
At the start of his junior year of high school, he signed up to be part of the inaugural Teen Advisory Board (TAB) at the library, a new group funded through an LSTA grant with the Institute of Museum and Library Services. While he mostly signed up to have something to do, the experience turned out to be transformational.
The Teen Advisory Board launched Bill from a quiet homebody lifestyle into the role of active community member. One of the founding members, Bill was quickly elected president of TAB. Bill worked with library staff to help design programs and select materials that would better serve the teen population in the town. Outside the library’s walls, Bill represented the library and Camp Verde teens at community events, such as the Fort Verde Days Parade. As his involvement in his hometown grew, Bill had to learn how to present himself professionally, not just as a student in an academic environment, but as a community member in the civic life of Camp Verde. “I still remember the first time I had to do public speaking. It was [to] the school board… I was really, really nervous,” Cook recalls. “But I got through it. I didn’t think that I could… And I felt like a star after that.”
In his first year as president of TAB, Bill faced a huge challenge in his new role. On discovering that the construction of a new library would cost more than originally anticipated, the Camp Verde Town Council was considering putting the project on indefinite hold. The new library plans included a teen space—the kind of haven for teens Bill had hoped for those nights and weekends he had been cooped up at his house. Bill had to argue why the $3.5 million project should go forward as planned, against the opposition of adults and city council members. He and the other TAB members presented at council meeting after council meeting, showing a commitment and passion that surprised elected officials and community members.
Camp Verde Mayor Charles German was part of those meetings. “I’ll tell you what is compelling,” German said. “It’s seeing those teens get up in front of council and talk about what the library means to them. It brings tears to my eyes.” Over time, Bill and the rest of TAB were able to guide the conversation way from cost of the building to the benefits it would bring to the town, especially its younger citizens. On November 5, 2016, the new 17,000 square foot library opened its doors for the first time. “It’s a large building compared to everything else,” says Cook. “It’s essentially the hub of the town. The fact that we had a role in that feels amazing.”
Today, Bill is grateful for the skills and character he built through leading TAB through a defining moment. “I would not be as socially skilled and confident if it weren’t for [TAB],” says Cook. “It changed my life.”