Local Teen Encourages Others One Page at a Time

Sixteen-year-old Teresa Shockley has an interesting story to tell of hope, perseverance and determination, and it is quite the page-turner, literally.

This Leawood resident who will be a sophomore at Shawnee Mission East in the fall seems wise beyond her years, and perhaps that is best explained by the personal challenges and struggles she has endured since she was nine years old, at which time she was clinically diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Over the ensuing years, she found herself involved with severe anxiety issues, which ultimately led her down a path of drinking, depression, self-harm and attempted suicide. Fortunately, she was able to receive professional help and has been on the road to recovery. Through that recovery, she found a project that has been a blessing in disguise, not only for herself, but for others who might face similar challenges.

Inspired by the Little Free Libraries initiative, Shockley decided to incorporate that idea into the project for her Girl Scout Gold Award, which is similar to the Eagle Scout project for Boy Scouts. Although just a “little library,” this project took on significant meaning for Shockley.

“I have always loved to read,” says Shockley. “And reading was something I did when I was depressed. I began to find books that related to how I felt and realized I was not alone in my struggles. Finding books directed towards teenagers with similar issues became a big part of my recovery. After I began to talk about this with my friends, more of them opened up and admitted to dealing with similar issues.”

Shockley emphasizes the importance of acknowledging mental illness and not just brushing off depression, anxiety and related issues as phases, easy to overcome.

“There are so many kids dealing with depression, self harm, anxiety and alcohol addiction,” emphasizes Shockley. “I think young people have always struggled with it, but now more of them are open to talking about it.”

With her Little Free Libraries, Shockley has curated her own collection of books, each with personal meaning to her. To that end, she has provided written reviews as to why the books have impacted her. One of her favorites is The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

“I connected to the main character in that book, who felt alone as I did,” reflects Shockley, who admits that while she has significantly improved with respect to her struggles, she still has sad days but has learned to cope with them, and this project has been an integral part of her success.

As part of her project, which requires 80 hours of investment, Shockley not only had to build her library but also have the project approved, write material to be included with the books, and create an online presence to raise further awareness.

She currently has one Free Little Library at the Lilac Center, a psychological treatment center in Kansas City and is also operating a traveling exhibit through the Johnson County Library system, which made stops at the Leawood, Blue Valley, and Antioch locations earlier this year, with additional locations anticipated in the future.

“I hope to have one at the Lilac Center located by Children’s Mercy Hospital downtown; one at Pembroke Middle School; and one at Marillac psychiatric hospital in Overland Park,” she says.

Each library will contain the same selection of books, but Shockley plans to introduce new titles over time. She is in awe, yet extremely humble, over how this project has taken on a life of its own, and the significance of that is not lost on her.

“I have learned about myself so much over the years,” she smiles. “I am a lot stronger now and understand I have the power to impact and encourage people, whether it is someone struggling as I have or even someone who simply wants to understand these issues.”

For more information on this project, go online at ReadingForRecovery.com.