Staff Spotlight: Best Buy Teen Tech Center Coordinator Wins Award For Work With Local Youth
Maria Vatranis was working at the Best Buy Teen Tech Center when it first opened its doors inside Main Library in 2018. Now the center’s coordinator, Vatranis’ dedication to her role grew over the past five years, fueled by her goal to build a space she wishes her teenage self could access.
Vatranis was recently recognized for these efforts at the regional Best Buy Teen Tech Center Connection Summit, held in Minneapolis this April. As the Southeast recipient for this inaugural achievement award, BBTTC officials across the region commended Vatranis for her “outstanding leadership and dedicated service to the City’s youth,” calling her work “the vision of good for all BBTTCs in the southeast United States.”
Raymie Wolfe is Vatranis’ assistant coordinator at the Library’s BBTTC and said no one deserves the honor more than her.
“Maria works tirelessly to identify and meet the needs of young people in our community. She doesn’t just do the work, she believes in it,” Wolfe said. “I get a front seat to witness her making a difference in people’s lives every day. With great humor and deep compassion, she lifts up everyone lucky enough to be in her orbit.”
The Best Buy Teen Tech Center is an interest-based learning environment for teens to experiment with and master various new technologies, with help from their peers and adult mentors. Designed for teens between the ages of 13 and 18, the center is equipped with tools that can be used for music and video production, interactive programming, graphic design, and more.
Since it first opened, Vatranis and Wolfe have added new tech and activities, depending on their current members’ hobbies and goals. From virtual reality sets to coding stations, sewing machines to 3D printers, a professional grade recording studio to podcasting equipment, and everything in between, BBTTC members can explore all areas of interest.
“We’re constantly growing and changing the space to best serve our members, and in a lot of ways, this award affirms that approach,” Vatranis said. “I grew up here in New Orleans and from the BBTTC’s beginning, I’ve wanted to build the space that I wanted when I was a kid. New Orleans is not an easy city to grow up in, and knowing that I’ve had any part in making these kids’ lives easier, more fun, and with more opportunities is truly so special to me.”
For Vatranis, the achievement award is a reflection of how far the BBTTC Center has come in the last five years.
“It’s been a ton of hard work and there’ve been a lot of growing pains but having the support and trust of my assistant coordinator, Raymie, and from my supervisor, April, has meant all the difference,” she said. “It takes a village, and I couldn’t ask for a better team on my side. To me, winning this award signifies a winning partnership –– between me, Raymie, Best Buy, the Clubhouse Network, and the Library as a whole.”
Emily Painton, City Librarian and Executive Director of the New Orleans Public Library said she is “immeasurably proud” of Vatranis’ accomplishment.
“I could go on and on about how amazing Maria and her team are,” Painton said. “Over the past few years, she’s transformed our Best Buy Teen Tech Center into something truly amazing that is making a real difference to our city’s youth. Maria consistently goes above and beyond to make sure the members have the best tech to suit their needs and is always thinking of unique ways to guide them and provide long-lasting opportunities for growth. These kids are so lucky to have her as a mentor, as is the Library for having her on our team.”
Vatranis said getting the award was “a huge shock,” and that she “had no idea” she was being considered for it until her name was announced.
“It was a surprise, to say the least, but I’m deeply grateful for the recognition,” she said.
To learn more about the Best Buy Teen Tech Center, visit bbttc.nolalibrary.org, or follow them on Instagram @bbttc_nolalibrary to stay up to date on what Vatranis, Wolfe, and the Teen Tech Center members are working on.