Kim McNeil-Capers has known since her first job as a camp counselor at the age of 14 that she was “destined to work with youth”. Kim joined the Queens Library in 2008 after 23 years as a supervisor for child and adolescent mental health programs at North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital. As the Youth Counselor at Queens Library for Teens, Kim is profoundly aware of the critical role the library occupies in the lives of the students who flock there after school.
Kim’s dedication to the Library and the young people it serves go well beyond her job description as a Youth Counselor. Since she began working there, Kim has helped provide a safe, neutral space for teens involved in gang violence, worked to provide safety and security for a homeless teen in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and created a welcoming environment and “safe third place”, that is, a safe place outside of home and school, for hundreds of teens in Far Rockaway. In addition, Kim is Outreach and Partnership Coordinator for the Rockaway Peninsula Literacy Zone and put together a team of library staff to hit the streets to educate residents about the programs offered by their neighborhood library. In total, they reached more than 5,000 individuals in 67 New York City Housing Authority buildings in what became known as “Reach Rockaway”, the largest outreach event at Queens Library to date.
To watch Kim interact with her students is to watch a woman who intuitively understands that children are reassured by consistency, rise to meet high expectations, and respond to positive reinforcement. Kim guides with an iron hand of rules and structure, couched inside a velvet glove of compassion and caring. Kim has a natural and intuitive relationship with youth. She understands their concerns as well as their distractions, and speaks their language. According to her teens, Kim “keeps it 100%, as in 100% real!”
Within the atmosphere Kim creates in the library, there is camaraderie and respect, enjoyment and education. There is security and freedom – the freedom to interact with peers outside of the home and school, while still under the guidance and protection of caring adults like Kim. Kim has found her life’s purpose and lives her passion each and every day, working with the youth in the heart of Far Rockaway who are a part of the Queens Library for Teens.