Sophie Meridien is an outstanding librarian whose hard work and creativity help make the Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach a place where teenagers thrive. Today, in some neighborhoods of West Palm Beach, 55-70% of homes do not have broadband internet access. The poverty rate is 22% with 28% of families receiving SNAP benefits. Students who attend the traditional schools nearest to the library live in some of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods of West Palm Beach. Census data shows 31% of people in these neighborhoods live below the poverty line. Average household income is $27,657 and 50% of households are single female led. Less than 10 percent of adults over the age of 25 have college degrees. Over 90% of the students enrolled in these schools qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch. West Palm Beach is racially and ethnically diverse. Black or African Americans make up 33.6% of West Palm Beach residents compared to 18.6% in Palm Beach County, 16% in Florida, and 12.7% in the United States. Daily, a vast majority of teen patrons using the library are Black.

Ms. Meridien understands the importance of equal access to popular books for all teenagers in West Palm Beach. In 2018, Ms. Meridien worked to establish annual author visits into the local facilities that house incarcerated teenagers in Palm Beach County. Her partnership with the Children’s Services Council, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, West Palm Beach Library Foundation and the BAM Festival enabled her to purchase over 200 copies of the author’s book for all the incarcerated teens visited to own. These author events have become an annual event. Through her work with these community stakeholders, she has brought award-winning authors such as Jason Reynolds, Ibi Zoboi and Nic Stone to speak to groups of teens.

Additionally, she works with PACE Center for Girls to host a monthly book club in collaboration with the Florida League of Women Lawyers. The goal of the PACE Center for Girls is to change the lives of girls through the development of critical life, health, and academic skills and keep them out of jail. Her monthly book club is well attended and always a popular before-school activity. Ms. Meridien understands the importance of young women seeing characters that look like them in all genres of literature. Ms. Meridien ensures the PACE girls can interact with popular authors during her annual author visits such as Elizabeth Acevedo, Nic Stone and Ibi Zoboi.

The racial equality within her community has always been a driving force in her decisions. In 2019, she was awarded the ALA Great Stories: Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation grant. Her collaborative work the City of West Palm Beach Youth Empowerment Center brought authors and books that helped facilitate important conversations about race. She used the funding to hire a local expert to help host a conversation about the race and the impacts of race and ethnicity in our community.

In 2020, she co-wrote and was awarded a Beanstack Winter Reading Black Voices grant to support a mental health counselor, where teens had a place to explore strategies for positive mental health. The mental health counselor explained self-care practices. These self-care practices allowed the teens to respond to the physical and mental health stressors that research has shown are consequences of racism in the United States experienced by racial/ethnic socially stigmatized and often overlooked populations.

Ms. Meridien cares about the teen community. Rather than view their world negatively, she chooses to celebrate their assets and acknowledge their passions. In 2018, she listened to her teen patrons. From these conversations she implemented programs based off popular internet series such as: Nailed It and Chopped.

Ms. Meridien runs the teen Homework Center and manages the two grant-funded teachers. The Teen Homework Center is the anchor of the teen department. It is a lifeline for teenagers where they can eat healthy snacks, work with caring adults who cheer them on and challenge them in their educational journey. Prior to COVID, Ms. Meridien and the teachers helped over 2,000 students to complete their projects, test prep and homework. With the onset of COVID, she quickly pivoted the teen Homework Center to virtual using Google Classroom and Google Meets so no one would be left behind.

Each summer, she works alongside the City of West Palm Beach’s Mayor Youth Summer Intern program to ensure teens are given the opportunity to work in the library. In addition, she manages over 30 teen volunteers as they complete their community service hours. She ensures that they are placed in appropriate volunteer positions that celebrate their personalities.

Outside the library walls, she provides her voice as a member of the Girls Coordinating Council of Palm Beach where a community collaborative group focuses on reforming and strengthening the system of care for girls and increasing the availability of gender responsive, trauma informed and strength-based services for girls. In 2020, she co-presented alongside librarians from organizations across the country for the annual YALSA Symposium. The presentation focused on outreach initiatives that librarians could employ to bring library services to teen patrons, particularly to those in alternative schools, juvenile detention centers, or local afterschool organizations.

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