Liz Meredith interviews Candace Blas, Teen Underground Coordinator

Candace Blas at Teen Underground (photo by Clark Mishler)

In August, 2012, VISTA Volunteer Candace Blas began her work as the Teen Underground
Coordinator for the Loussac Library a year after it opened. A collaborative
effort between the Downtown Rotary and the
Anchorage Public Library, the Teen Underground was designed
to provide programming for
Anchorage teens.  Here, Candace shares of
the challenges and successes she’s experienced over the past several months. 
How did you become the VISTA volunteer for the Anchorage Loussac Library’s Teen Underground?

Loussac Library has been one of my favorite places for years. As a teenager, I
spent a lot of my time in the Anne Stevens room studying and reading. The
library became a comfortable place for me to escape and explore and was a
constant amidst the tumult of my adolescent years.
 With my love for the Loussac Library, and my
college background in English and Secondary Education, I jumped at the
opportunity to coordinate Teen Underground through AmeriCorps as a VISTA
Volunteer. A year earlier, I had made the decision to take a few years off from
college to regain focus and with the plan of returning when I had a clearer
picture of my career goals. I spent the first year of my break from school as a
barista at a coffee shop. After a year of making coffee, I found that I still
was not ready to return to school, but was searching for a way to contribute to
my community and be more productive. I knew that I has some raw skills that if
applied could serve an organization and possibly help people. So volunteering
for a year at the library, coordinating the teen programs, and serving as a
mentor seemed like a perfect fit.
Tell us a bit about how it began versus
what all you have going now.

The Teen Underground opened in June 2011. The
result was a beautiful room, equipped with technology and filled with potential
for teen programming. The idea was to create a space where teens in Anchorage
could socialize, create, experiment, and learn through structured and
unstructured after school programs and find positive adult mentors.
library did not have enough staff the first year Teen Underground was open to
implement all the plans and programs. Someone was needed who could focus all
their energy on Teen Underground, so they applied for the support of a VISTA
volunteer. I was able to immerse myself in everything Teen Underground and to
develop and strengthen connections in the community. After my first few months,
there were programs everyday afterschool, supported by enthusiastic community
partners and volunteers. We now have weekly programs, which include Homework
Help, Video Club, Teen Writing Society, Task Force, and Gaming as well as
monthly art shows, open mic nights, and other special events.
Is there a particular one (or a few)
examples of teens that have blossomed with the support of Teen Underground?

Through the afterschool programs that I developed at Teen
Underground of the Loussac Library, many teens that would otherwise not have a
place to socialize are able to find a place at the library where they are
accepted and encouraged. Here is a quote from a mother, thanking me for my
impact on her kids:
“Sarah has not truly had a group of ‘friends’ ever
before, until now, thanks to the writing group specifically, but more
macroscopically, thanks to the Teen Underground events and the opportunity of
volunteering at the library.  I want to say thank you from the bottom of
my heart, to you, Candace, for helping to be a major positive influence on
my emerging young lady (SARAH)!  Life can be so rough on kids these days,
it warms my heart to know there are caring people out there like you and Abby
and Gus and all the other volunteers.”
Sarah is homeschooled, and like many teens that participate
in the programs offered at Teen Underground she has found friends at the

What’s your vision for the future of
Teen Underground?

have witnessed so much creative output from the youth at Teen Underground in
the past months. In our Video Club, I have watched members evolve from barely
knowing how to use a camera to producing and editing their own short
documentaries. Also, our Teen Writing Society collectively produced a magazine
under the leadership of Stefanie Tatalias from WYAK. I would like to see Teen
Underground continue to be a safe place that inspires young people to express
What will you do once your year as the
VISTA volunteer ends?

for me, I’m going back to school in the fall to complete my International
Studies degree with a Russian concentration. I will continue to volunteer at
the library.
How do interested volunteers get involved?

you can contact me:

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