Community Oral History by the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council

19 students between the ages of 14-15 years old undertook a community documentation project with Queens Memory.

Greater Ridgewood Youth Council, Queens, NY, United States

The Greater Ridgewood Youth Council (GRYC) provides educational, recreational, cultural, and employment programs for youth in Western Queens. In the Spring of 2016, 19 student employees between the ages of 14-15 years old participated in the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development’s “Work, Learn & Grow Employment Program”, which is funded by the New York City Council. The GRYC is a community-based service provider for DYCD. During their time on Work, Learn and Grow, some of the student employees undertook a community documentation project in collaboration with Queens Memory. Led by GRYC staffer Emily Waelder, the students conducted oral history interviews with local residents, plus they digitized and cataloged materials from the archives at GRYC. All these materials became part of the Archives at Queens Library.

The partnership was led on the Queens Memory side by project archivist Maggie Schreiner who worked with Queens Memory Director Natalie Milbrodt to provide training on oral history interviewing, digitization and cataloging. Schreiner created a simplified cataloging guide for the students to use. CUNY Service Corps employee Reshad Hai worked on-site at the GRYC to help the students with their digitization, cataloging, and oral history interviews.


Emily and other GRYC staff accompanied students on fieldwork visits to people working in the businesses on Myrtle Ave.  They explained their project and invited people to participate in interviews they were scheduling at GRYC on designated interview days.

In this group interview, the student employees reflect on their personal experiences doing this project.  The work of these 19 student employees had a cross pollinating effect on the other Work, Learn & Grow service learning teams at GRYC.  They inspired the creation of GRYC’s magazine Kin of Queens, which showcased art and poetry inspired by the recorded interviews and digitized photos.

GRYC Interviews

From our perspective at Queens Memory, this project was a big success.  Students were able to engage in a project with enough depth and complexity that in the end, they knew they had contributed something meaningful to their library’s archival collections and they had gained real skills and insights from the work.  The winning combination of factors was having a committed community partner and the availability of a resource (Reshad Hai) who could work on-site at GRYC.  It took a tremendous number of hours to plan and then supervise this project and if it weren’t for Emily Waelder’s organizational skills and dedication to the project, it never would have come together.  Reshad’s major time investment working with the students was the other factor that brought the project to a successful completion.

Activity Timeline
October 30
Planning Meeting

Greater Ridgewood Youth Council youth supervisor Emily Waelder meets with Queens Memory Director Natalie Milbrodt and Queens Memory Project Archivist Maggie Schreiner. They formulate a plan for the scope of the students’ work and decide to create three distinct Roles for Student Participants since the project will be too complicated for every student to do every part of the work.

December 17
Digitization Workshop with Queens Memory Project Archivist Maggie Schreiner

Maggie demonstrated digital imaging best practices to the students who would be scanning the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council’s photograph collection.  She created this Simplified Cataloging Guide for cataloging the images.

January 5
Adding Materials to the Digital Archives

Reshad and Emily worked with the students to digitize photos, edit audio interviews and catalog directly in the Queens Memory content management system built in CollectiveAccess. Reshad worked with the students three times a week during the month of January and then once a week through February.  He continued reviewing records created by students during his hours working at the Queens Central Library during February and March.  Now the student interviews, photographs, and scanned images from the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council’s collections are all available on the Queens Public Library digital archives webpage.

April 15
Culminating Event

The students exhibited photographs and quotes from the interviews they conducted.  They performed excerpts from the interviews for an audience that included the interviewees.

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