SOPL Volunteer Honored by NJ Library Association
Library volunteer and SHU senior Lauren Johnson is recognized for service and dedication.
"The South Orange Public Library has a history of working with Seton Hall University students," says Library Director Melissa Kopecky, "but the collaboration that began with the volunteer time, energy and educated interest of Lauren Johnson has been extraordinary."
Three years ago, as a sophomore, Johnson was charged with finding a year-long community service opportunity for 30 students engaged in the Freshman Leaders program. "It wasn't easy to find," admits Johnson, so she crafted her own. She contacted the library, where she learned that middle school students, in particular, could use some after-school attention. Johnson made a plan, a schedule, and organized transportation for SHU students. A business major, Johnson quickly learned what her middle school clientele needed most: she continues to volunteer at the library on Mondays and Wednesday, offering tutoring and mentoring. Fridays, she learned, "kids just needed to hang out and wind down from the school week."
For her efforts on behalf of the library and, therefore, the larger community, Kopecky nominated Johnson for the annual Library Service Award. Johnson will receive the statewide honor from the New Jersey Library Association, recognizing "exceptional service to New Jersey's libraries during 2009." It's a perfect fit, explains Kopecky. "Lauren exemplifies the spirit of community service; she has been an active partner in the power of the library within the community and has certainly been a key presence in communication and collaboration between Seton Hall and the Village," she says. "It is an exceptional volunteer who not only works on a project—in this case providing afterschool activities for middle school students—but who actively engages other volunteers."
With a successful middle school program underway, Johnson turned her attention to the youngest of South Orange's citizens. Kopecky desribes her as the "coordinating force" behind Seton Stories, a Friday morning story time that finds university students reading aloud to toddlers and preschoolers.
Along the way, Johnson discovered what she describes as a "passion for community service," having also served as student liaison between the Village and the university. She added a non-profits minor to her business major, and considered what to do next. The future is coming quickly for Johnson; just after she graduates from Seton Hall in May, she moves to Chicago. "I'm excited," she says, to be entering the University of Chicago in pursuit of a Masters in Social Work.
The middle schools students and toddlers who have grown to rely on Johnson will miss her next year, but her legacy will remain. Seton Hall students will continue to volunteer at the South Orange Public Library, perhaps finding that same spark for service that lights the way to their future careers.