View online edition


Lots for Teens at Cumberland County Library

From left: Sunny Drozd of Fairfield, Gianna Martinez of Millville and Sophia Beckwith of Upper Deerfield with stacks of books.
by Lorinda Jarvis

Gianna, Sophia and Sunny sit side by side at a table, wearing bright smiles, ready to chat with a stranger about their favorite subject—reading.

Cell phones are nowhere in sight.

No need for electronics here at the Cumberland County Library. They are here to have fun, talk about books and help direct their wayward peers back to the old-fashioned, unplugged version of entertainment.

The parents of the teens feel comfortable enough to drop off their sons and daughters at least once a month at the county library, a safe place where their kids can laugh and have fun.

Fun at the library? Actually, the Cumberland County Library, located at 800 E. Commerce Street in Bridgeton, fosters an atmosphere of fun that attracts a steady stream of teenagers.

Terri Carpenter, head of youth services, smiles as she listens to the girls geek out over their favorite books and programs they help her create, which keep kids coming back to the county library.

“Our teen programs have gained traction since the pandemic,” said Carpenter, who has been with the county library for three years. “Post-pandemic, we are getting more and more teens and families (coming) to our programs.”

For 14-year-old Gianna Martinez of Millville, the library’s a stop multiple times a month. She started through the National Junior Honor Society, where she is encouraged to log in volunteer hours.

Gianna could not wait to start volunteering at the library, she said. She has met new people, and reconnected with other teens that she already knew.

“A lot of people think that teens don’t want to volunteer or hang around books. The library is a very, very nice place. People think it will be boring and quiet—and it’s not,” she said.

It’s also not always just about books.

Follow the steps to the basement, where young teens are involved in a lively role-playing game. Dungeons and Dragons is an interactive storytelling game in which players take an imaginary adventure to castles and dungeons, defeating monsters.

The library’s teen program attracts kids from all over the county, from Bridgeton and Upper Deerfield to Vineland, Millville, and Cedarville. Carpenter also tries to provide snacks for the kids, along with different activities such as a cake pop decorating event.

“We, as a library community, have been doing teen programs for years. There are going to be changes, though, with technology. But the way we provide programs has not changed,” she said.

Sophia Beckwith, 15, of Upper Deerfield, heard about the library’s activities through her Scout troop.

Sophia enjoys the range of activities offered. The library recently hosted a Taylor Swift Night, featuring Miss Southern Shores’ pageant winner Ashley Campbell. There has also been everything from a video game company that hosted a “lock-in” at the library to a Dungeons and Dragons Night “lock-in,” held after hours on a Friday night.

The library has also introduced a teen reading program called Cumberland County Teens Read, which is run through an app on phones. Teens can log what they read on their phones through the app, write reviews, complete activities the library posts each month, including a monthly book battle in which two books from the same genre go head-to-head. Students then vote for the winner.

“Even for people who are not into reading, there are still plenty of things for them here,” Sophia said.

Gianna agreed. She has lots of little cousins who can’t wait to turn 13 so they can hang at the library.

“I think the library is a place for everyone. You don’t have to be into books. There’s an event here for you.”

The girls agree that their phones and the internet have helped bring people together.

“Phones and internet and online content have brought people away from books,” Gianna said, “but it’s not always a bad thing.” She adds it has brought many people together, too.

Sophia said she loves that she can connect with people online who just want to talk about the book that she’s reading.

“You have people like you out there. And then you can inspire other people, too,” Gianna said.

The teens also spend time writing short stories, sometimes together.

“Writing is a form of self-expression. It’s your work and your mind. There’s a person on the outside, but this is a part of you,” Gianna said of her stories. “When you write it down, it’s a lot more meaningful.”

Gianna and Sunny both write for their school newspaper. They’re both big fans of the author Shannon Messenger, who writes the Keeper of the Lost Cities series.

The girls sometimes find themselves under scrutiny in the classroom, just in a different sort of way from most of their classmates.

“My biology teacher said, ‘Kids, put your phones away. Then she said, “Sunny, I love the book, but that needs to go away.”

Check out teen programs at these other libraries in the region:

Programs for Teens at the County Library:

Teen Volunteer Meeting, 6 to 7 p.m. (first Tuesday of the month) Next meeting: April 2 – Teens are invited to help make a difference at the library while earning volunteer time. Members help plan events for teens and kids, suggest books for the library and more. Registration is required.

FURever as Friends Reading Program, 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (second Monday of the month) Next meeting: April 8 – Teens as well as younger children are invited to read to a furry friend. FURever as Friends therapy pet teams will be available to help kids practice their reading. Participants can bring a book from home or choose one at the library. Registration is required.

Teen Maker Night, 6 to 7:30 p.m. March 12 – Teens ages 13 to 18 are invited to celebrate New Jersey Makers Day (observed statewide on Saturday, March 16), which celebrates hands-on activities and creativity. Use craft supplies at the library to make your own creation.

Backyard Habitat for Birds, Butterflies and More, with Pat Sutton, 11 a.m. Saturday, March 16 – For adults and teens. Make your yard a habitat for birds, butterflies, dragonflies and more. Sutton is a Cape May resident, writer, naturalist, photographer and educator. She will discuss native trees, shrubs, vines, wildflowers and even weeds that are beneficial to birds and other wildlife. Learn common sense garden maintenance. Learn the hows and whys of attracting birds, butterflies and more to your backyard. Free, but registration is required.

Gardening for Wildlife, 1 p.m. Saturday, March 16 – Open to all ages. Celebrate N.J. Makers Day at the county library. Enjoy a family-friendly program that focuses on native plants and pollinators, insects and other wildlife that depend on them. Build planter boxes. Each family that attends will receive two to three native plants to plant in their boxes. Registration is required.

Pageturners Lounge for Teens, 6 to 7:30 p.m. (third Tuesday of the month) Next meeting: March 19 – Teens are invited to bring their favorite book (or borrow one from the library) and spend some time reading and enjoying some snacks. A short break will be held to talk about what you are reading. Note: dates subject to change.

Preteen Dungeons and Dragons (ages 10 to 12), 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 23 – Learn the basics of character creation, role play, combat skills and more of D&D’s fifth edition. All experience levels are welcome, but this program is designed for beginner players.

Teen Dungeons and Dragons, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. (Fourth Tuesday of the month) Tuesday, March 26 and Tuesday, April 23 – Join the library’s Dungeon Master as he leads teens through their monthly D&D adventure. Tabletop/role playing experience is not required and new players are always welcome. Premade characters will be available for those who need them. Registration is required.

Cumberland County Teens Read Program – Ongoing challenge designed to create a love of reading in teens (grades 9 to 12 as well as ages 13 to 18). Teens can earn monthly incentives by logging their time spent reading, writing reviews and completing activities.

Teen Poetry Program, 6-7:30 p.m. April 9 – To celebrate National Poetry Month, teens ages 13 to 18 are invited to create their own poetry with library books. Teens will make blackout poetry, using pages from discarded books, magazines and newspapers as well as book spine poetry using current library books. Registration is required.

Teen Coffeehouse, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 16 – Read a poem, sing a song, play an instrument, show off any talent you have or simply come for the show and the snacks. Registration is required.

Teen “Earth Month” Book Discussion, 6 to 7:30 p.m. April 30 – Teens are invited to discuss the book “The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go From Here: Adapted for Young Adults,” by Hope Jahren. Weather permitting, the discussion will take place outside. The book is for those interested in learning about climate change and ways to contribute to a more sustainable future.

To register for an event, call 856-453-2210, ext. 26105 or visit