The Animal Lovers Club @ Hampton Bays Public Library
by Erick Gordy, Theresa Maritato and Victoria Urbelis
Theresa Maritato created the Animal Lovers Club at the Hampton Bays Public Library Teen Department in 2008. This series of programming focuses on helping the Southampton Animal Shelter, located in Southampton, NY. They are a no-kill shelter that rescues unwanted and abandoned animals including dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs, and various other pets. In particular, the shelter makes efforts to help rehabilitate dogs formerly used as fighting dogs and to relocate rescue dogs from Southern states which have greater euthanasia rates. This club teaches teens to care about animals at an early age as well as the importance of volunteering.
Each year the Hampton Bays Animal Lovers Club offers a variety of programs geared toward teens from 7th-12th grade. Some of these include “Cards for Canines” where teens create greeting cards with personalized messages and decorations designed to help advertise certain shelter dogs, “Stuff a Stocking” where teens put together bundles of treats and toys for shelter animals during the holidays, and “Read to a Therapy Dog” which reinforces the bond between teens and the animals they support. The Hampton Bays Animal Lovers Club also hosts visits to the shelter a handful of times each year. These visits allow club members to see firsthand where their efforts are applied, and helps non- members become acquainted with the efforts of the shelter. Shelter staff teach visitors about the importance of volunteering, and lead volunteers on a tour of the shelter to meet each animal personally.
The Hampton Bays Animal Lovers Club also hosts several large scale events including adopt-a-thons on the front lawn of the library, and “Senior Shelter Pet Day,” which is dedicated to senior pets in later life stages. The club’s largest event is the annual “Fall in Love with Shelter Animals” fundraiser which runs from September through October. Each teen who signs up chooses a specific shelter animal that they want to sponsor and then has six weeks to raise as much money as they can for that animal. Once the teen raises at least $10.00, they are invited to a party hosted by the library to celebrate their hard work and the animal they helped. The party features desserts, a visit from a shelter trainer and animals, entertainment, and prizes donated by local and national businesses. Over the past three years, the Hampton Bays Animal Lovers Club’s annual fundraiser has raised over $10,000 for the Southampton Animal Shelter.
Each time a teen attends and participates in any of these programs, they not only earn community service, but they also strengthen community bonds. The support from the community helps to foster in our teens a sense of empathy, accountability and pride.
Although Theresa Maritato has left her post as Head of Teen Services at Hampton Bays Public Library to dedicate more time to her work with rescue animals, the Animal Lovers Club will remain one of the Teen Services Department’s main focuses, as each year the number of teen participants climb higher and higher.