The Cottonwood Public Library will be offering outdoor adventures to teenagers over the summer through its Get Out program.
The library’s youth services department has received a grant from the Arizona Library Association in conjunction with the Arizona Center for Rural Health to pilot the program, which will be open to teens ages 13-18. It was created in an attempt to address disparities and trauma resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic response.
Elizabeth Hansen, teen library specialist at the Cottonwood Public Library, acknowledged the importance of outdoor activity to physical and mental health, especially in young people. Hansen said she had been wanting to fill in the gaps in mental health care for kids without access to it. The program will strive to improve health, foster resiliency and self reliance, create social connections and use the power of nature to help heal the effects of trauma.
The program will include nine events. Equine therapy, yoga and ca mping at Riverfront Park have already taken place this year. Cottonwood Parks and Recreation had intended to organize a camping trip for families that didn’t work out, so the city offered the program to the library in May. Hansen said that afterward, the kids begged to go camping again next year.
“It really gets an opportunity for kids that for various reasons wouldn’t even get these experiences to have them,” Hansen said. “It’s been a lot of fun. The community has pulled together completely to help with food, skills and locations and it’s turned into an absolutely beautiful thing.”
Hansen recalled that no one wanted to leave the yoga event and they ended up staying a couple of hours over their time. She shared a story of one teenager who said that although she was a very outdoorsy, active person, she had not spent any time outside since the quarantines were imposed and that the yoga event made her feel like she could be herself again.
“It just gave me chills,” Hansen said. “You go into something hoping what you want to see come out of it but you have no idea. It’s teenagers, anything can happen. Yet here was one super shining example of exactly what we wanted for these kids. Every one of them has come forward and said they’d got something out of it really positive. Whether it’s one teen or 10, that one is worth everything. I feel very fortunate.”
On June 15, the library will offer a three-hour kayaking trip on the Verde River with Arizona Legend Adventures. Calavera Bar and Grill will be donating food for the trip. July 16 will feature a full-day hiking event covering 11 miles at Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff. On Aug. 26, the library will hold a shorter nature walk at the Jail Trail.
The day-long survival skills camp, Wild in the City, is set for Sept. 9 at Riverfront Park. The library is expecting over 100 people to participate and learn outdoor skills such as archery and fly fishing.
“As a library we’re always looking to push the boundaries of what libraries normally do,” Hansen said. She noted that it’s unexpected for teenagers to go camping with the library and that the library meets many needs for the community.
“The library is about so much more than books,” Hansen said. “It’s really about the people in our community. A lot of libraries have shifted their focus that way because it’s a natural community center. It’s a hub for a lot of people. It’s shelter, technology and information.”
Hansen added that the teen department at the library is thriving, especially now that school is out and many teens are looking for a productive, safe space.
“We’re not just the library,” Hansen said. “We are a community center, we are the heartbeat of the community. It’s only natural that children, which are arguably one of the most important aspects of any community because they are what the future will be, should have the best of all experiences wherever they are in our town.”
Hansen would like to thank community partners Jak Teel, Rosa Cays, Joe Sulfaro, Leah Achord, Caleb Labarda, Melissa Franklin, Mwandani Jones and the Elks Society and local businesses Calavera Bar and Grill and Verde Lea Market.