By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Stacy Brooksby spent a lot of time in the school library during her freshman year at Niskayuna High School, but it wasn’t always for the best reasons. She was going through some tough times and often used the space to skip class while she worked on overdue homework.
“I was usually in here every day,” said Brooksby, who is now a sophomore. She still visits the library every day, sometimes several times a day, but only in free periods. And instead of hiding from her work, Brooksby’s focus has shifted to helping others, which has helped her put tough times behind her.
The Niskayuna High School librarians consider Brooksby a kind of student assistant, but it’s not a position she applied for.
It happened organically one day, when she noticed a pile of books that needed to be replaced on the shelves.
“I just started putting books away,” she said. “After I was doing it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is harder than it looks.’ ”
Brooksby has always enjoyed volunteering. She works alongside members of her church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, to improve the community. After Tropical Storm Irene, they cleaned up homes and neighborhoods in Schoharie County, for example. She also volunteers as a youth soccer referee and recently applied to help out at a domestic violence center.
Donna McAndrews, a librarian at the high school, said Brooksby’s appearance couldn’t have come at a better time.
It’s McAndrews’ first year at the high school, but she’s helping drive a cultural shift in the library, hoping to change the space from a student lounge to a more academic, productive zone.
Stacy, she said, is leading that charge on the student front, acting as a sort of ambassador.
“Every single person in this building knows her,” McAndrews said. “I have kids coming in all day long asking if Stacy’s here.”
But when she is there, chances are, her peers know it. Brooksby often comes up with interactive projects and spends her free period approaching tables full of working students and inviting them to participate.
Her latest initiative, Helping Hands, involves students writing down their names on paper cutouts of a hand. On the fingers, students write down ways they’ve helped others, or ways others have helped them.
Brooksby uses the hands to decorate the library, just one of many ways she adds color.
On a recent Monday, she was focused in on a different project: a former shelving area that she had suggested the librarians convert to an interactive bulletin board. There are three sections, where students can write answers to different prompts and post them for others to see.
She’s done all kinds of different prompts, inviting people to post everything from their favorite inspirational quotes to drawings of dinosaurs. But she rotates them constantly to keep people interested, so she was walking around the library asking people what they thought should go in one empty section.
McAndrews raves about these sorts of initiatives that Stacy constantly proposes.
“She’s forging our path,” McAndrews said.
Some high school students might be too shy to approach their classmates and ask them to do something cute or crazy, but Brooksby has developed a candid, earnest approach that seems to work well among her peers.
“Here’s my theory,” she said. “I’m just the right type of awkward.”
Brooksby, who lives in Niskayuna near the border of Colonie with her parents and two younger siblings, isn’t yet sure where she’ll go to college or what she’ll study. But she knows exactly how she pictures her career: traveling around, lifting people up as a motivational speaker.
“I’m determined,” she said.
She’ll get her first shot at motivational speaking in early April, when she’ll visit the children’s unit of Ellis Hospital’s mental health center to speak with kids who are going through difficult times. It will be an especially meaningful first speaking engagement for Brooksby, who spent some time as a inpatient there during a rough patch earlier in her childhood.
“They want me to come back and talk to the kids about how I got through it,” she said. She’s still in touch with some of the staff there.
Part of her speech will focus on the thing that’s lightened her load: helping others.
“It’s rewarding, and it definitely helps with your self-esteem,” she said.