When Teresa Shockley of Leawood saw one of the Little Free Libraries around town, she knew immediately that she wanted to make her own, with a personal touch.
She was already looking for a project to do for her Girl Scout Gold Award, which is similar to the Eagle project in Boy Scouts, and she wanted to incorporate something that had greater meaning stemming from her own life.
“Depression and self-harm is something I struggled with for a long time, so I knew I wanted to do something on that topic,” said Teresa, a 15-year-old freshman at Shawnee Mission East High School. “The thing I was feeling was loneliness. A lot of the books distracted me and made me feel like I wasn’t alone, like other people understood what I was going through.”
She ordered the materials to build a Little Free Library and decided to curate her own collection of books. Each of the books has helped her in some way. To illustrate that, she’s written summaries and reviews to indicate why she chose each title.
Two of her favorites are “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky and “All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven.
“The things (Chbosky) was saying really connected with what I was feeling. No one had been able to put into words how I was feeling,” she said. “If another teenager can see, ‘Oh it’s helped this girl,’ they can give it a chance.”
After her parents divorced when she was in third grade, Teresa went to therapy for anxiety, panic and obsessive compulsive disorders. In the sixth grade, she developed problems with smoking, alcohol abuse and cutting. The next year, she found two therapists who helped her with both her anxiety and her addiction issues.
Mental illness can be a tough topic for anyone to address, especially personally.
“When I was presenting the project to the council and explaining it to my friends and my Girl Scout leader, it was a little uncomfortable,” Teresa said. “It’s a taboo subject for some people, and people can be uncomfortable discussing it.”
Her parents were supportive of her efforts, Teresa said.
“She presented her project in front of a panel of three Girl Scout leaders in the council, (and) they said they felt it was very brave on her part to be so open as to what she’s been through and apply it to her project, so I’m really proud of her,” said Stephanie Sedivy, Teresa’s mom. “I’m really glad she’s now at a place that she can freely talk about her past and can talk about it in a positive way, not just for herself, but for other teens as well.”
To make her idea into a Gold Award project, Teresa had to invest 80 hours in it after getting the idea approved. Building the library, writing the material to include with the books and creating an online presence around the project are all part of the process.
She’s part of Troop 2091, based at Pembroke Hill, but the Gold Award process is mostly an individual endeavor.
Right now, Teresa has one operational library at the Lilac Center, a psychological treatment office in Kansas City.
“Over the years, I’ve been to a lot of different therapists’ offices, and I don’t think any have helped me as much as the Lilac Center,” Teresa said. “I wanted to create the library there, because that’s a place I’m very invested into.”
She also has a traveling exhibit making its way through different branches of the Johnson County Library system. It’s at the Leawood branch until May 23; May 23-June 6 at Blue Valley; June 6-June 20 at Antioch; and June 20-July 6 at Lackman. She also has requests for Pembroke Hill, Marillac psychiatric hospital in Overland Park and a second location of the Lilac Center.
She’s planning to keep the selection of books the same in each one but hopes to introduce new titles to all the collections as she goes along.
“We did not think this would take off as much as it has,” Teresa said.
So far, she’s bought the books for her first library herself. The Friends of the Johnson County Library have said they’ll help her get some of the books for her forthcoming libraries, and the Lilac Center has promised to contribute profits from one of its vending machines to help as well, she said.
“I don’t really have a goal to completely change someone’s life … but distracting them and making them happy for a little while is what matters,” she said. “Some people haven’t struggled with depression but maybe by reading these books, it can educate them and open their eyes to what it’s like.”
On the Web
For more information on the project, visit readingforrecovery.com.