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story.lead_photo.caption Tina Lane and her daughter, Ember, are attending a play group as part of Teen Action and Support Center’s First Steps Program. “They don’t get a lot of opportunities to just play, so this is an important time of bonding for them,” says Executive Director Madi Hutson.

There's a small, cute, white house on New Hope Road in Rogers, set back far from the road. An "Open" sign in the window and multiple cars in the driveway are the only clues that this isn't a home but is, in fact, the flagship office of the nonprofit Teen Action and Support Center.

"That's on purpose," says Executive Director Madi Hutson with a smile, as she sits in a common area that looks just like a cozy living room. "We wanted our clients to be comfortable here, to feel at home."

All In Northwest Arkansas

What: A casino-themed TASC fundraiser

When: 6:30 p.m. (VIP Reception, 5:30 p.m.) January 28

Where: John Q. Hammons Center, 3303 S. Pinnacle Hills Parkway, Rogers

Cost: $100

Information: www.tascnwa.org/ainwa

TASC was started in 2004, says Hutson, by Dawn and Greg Spragg and a group of concerned citizens who realized that there were gaps in the services for teens.

"They did a large assessment to figure out where those gaps were and to figure out if they could fill those gaps," explains Hutson. "And their answer was 'yes'. So they came up with four programs where they could help. 2005 was when the first center opened, and that was right here in this house."

TASC serves teens ages 13 to 19 across Benton and Washington counties, and the organization has grown enormously over the last 11 years. There are currently three offices, and a new 5,000-square-foot office will open on Emma Avenue in Springdale this year. But the four areas of service have remained the same; called [In]Service, First Steps, Restore and The Closet, they all have a goal of fulfilling the mission statement of empowering teens to take action in their own lives and communities. Their impact report says TASC has served more than 4,500 teens since it first opened its doors.

"[In]Service is our mentoring program," says Hutson. "Teens who need a community service program come in, sign up and choose their projects from a list. We do six to eight projects during the school year and 11 to 13 during the summer, so we do a lot of projects. Almost every day of the year, we have a project going."

Though the teens taking advantage of this program come for a myriad of reasons -- some need resume fodder, some need service learning hours for high school, some simply enjoy volunteering -- Hutson says that 67 percent of the students involved come from the juvenile justice system.

"It's very different from when you used to see kids picking up trash on the side of the road," says Hutson. "Now we use a model of restorative justice, showing them what they can be and showing them a restorative approach to serve. On every project, we have an adult mentor who is on staff. They're not there to oversee, they serve alongside [the teens]."

TASC is a member of the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative for both Benton and Washington counties, says Hutson, a group that's working toward reducing sentences that include locked detention centers for juveniles. "There have been a lot of changes that make [juvenile justice] more restorative," she says. "We've found that at least a quarter of these kids not only stay past their hours, but they stay for double the hours for which they were required to stay."

TASC is currently partners with 67 community organizations, and Alyssa Snyder, TASC's director of community service, says the projects are as diverse as ushering and working behind the scenes at the Arkansas Public Theatre, cleaning up along New Hope Road, helping out at Wattle Hollow Retreat Center and working on the farm at the horse rescue organization Autumn's Reride Youth Ranch, a facility that works with rescue horses.

Hutson says one of their teens -- a young man who was a "tough kid" with 78 community hours to complete -- ended up becoming so emotionally attached to one of the horses at the ranch, named Paul, he donated the money he had been saving to buy a game console to help pay for healthcare that the horse needed.

"On the outside, on the surface, he is one of the kids that I had to get on constantly," says Rebecca Christians, Executive Director of the Ranch. "But when you press into him, you can see his heart. His heart is so gentle and kind. He would come every week and hand over this wrinkled wad of dollar bills and change and he would say, 'This is for Paul.'

"He brushes Paul, and gives Paul a bath, and sits with Paul, and takes Paul for a walk. I don't even have any more words about how special this bond between this young man and this horse is."

Hutson estimates that around a quarter of the teens referred to TASC through the juvenile justice system end up utilizing other areas of service from TASC. This includes the Restore program, which offers teens and families counseling, support groups or mediation on a "pay what you can" basis; The Closet, which supports under-resourced or housing-insecure teens with support, referrals, hygiene items, school supplies and clothing; and First Steps, a support program for pregnant or teen parents.

"We meet with [teen parents] weekly or biweekly, usually in their schools," says Hutson. "We distribute diapers, wipes, clothes, whatever they need for their baby for that week. In return for those supplies, what they do is commit to their education, they commit to coming to their parenting classes and play groups."

Hutson says the results from the First Steps program are remarkable: Last year, 93 percent of teens who were seniors in the program graduated on time -- the national average for teen parent graduation is 38 percent, and the average is even lower in Arkansas -- and the program served 110 teen parents in all.

"We know that this kind of 'wraparound method' is working really well," says Hutson. "They're doing well, staying in school, getting jobs, providing for their kids."

TASC gets 30 percent of its budget from its biggest yearly fundraiser, called "All In Northwest Arkansas," which takes place this year on January 28 at the John Q. Hammons Center.

"We're asking the question, 'Are you "all in" for the youth of Northwest Arkansas?'" says Hutson. "It's casino based, and it's a fun game night. We'll have games there from Dancenhance Entertainment, we'll have close-up magicians, live music, a silent and live auction, a lot of great raffle prizes, hors d'oeuvres and drinks -- a very fun night. New Creature is our presenting sponsor this year -- they're doing some amazing things at this event."

"All in Northwest Arkansas" will help TASC continue to work toward the goal of empowering teens to feel like a valuable part of their community, something Hutson says she's lucky to see all the time at her job.

"When [teens] can see their impact, their actual impact in a relationship and a community, they start to say, 'I did that,'" she says. "When there's something they're leaving behind, something they're actually able to contribute, that's exactly what they need to feel like they're part of the community. And we know that any human, when they feel like they're part of the community, they're going to be healthier, they'll have better outcomes."

NAN Profiles on 01/15/2017

Print Headline: Action center gives area teens a chance to feel good, do good

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