The teenage years that span middle and high school are an exciting time for most young people. New friends, new experiences and personal growth create an environment of constant change and social interaction.
However, those same “wonder years” also bring a lot of social stress as young people try to figure out who they are, where and how they belong and what they want to be when they grow up. Most teens find their own ways of fitting into their social circles by becoming involved with organized school and church activities, such as sports, music, dance and clubs.
Unfortunately, many others never quite find their way. They find themselves increasingly isolated from others at one of the most pivotal times in their lives. Despite the best efforts of their schools, they just can’t seem to find a way to fit in.
This period of social dysfunction can have a long-lasting impact on teens as they drift through their lives like rudderless ships. As they grow into adulthood, the feelings of isolation and loneliness can lead to a wide variety of physical and psychological conditions, including substance abuse, chronic unemployment, homelessness and thoughts of suicide.
Fortunately, things do not have to go this way.
In Sumner County, there is a place where all teens can find their way – the Sumner Teen Center.
Founded in 2012 by Shari and Randy Campbell, the Gallatin-based Sumner Teen Center is the place for teens to go to find themselves.
“After raising my two children, I know firsthand the importance of kids having a place that they can go where they feel like they belong,” says Shari. “Our children were blessed to grow up in a stable home, filled with love and support. However, a lot of kids aren’t so fortunate. Despite the best efforts of parents and schools, these kids fall through the cracks.”
Overtime, Shari began to feel that she needed to do something to create a place where every teen can feel at home.
“I guess that you could say it was a God thing, recalls Shari. “My kids were grown, and I felt that God was telling me that now is the time for me to do something to help other people’s children.”
After spending considerable time researching how they could help, Shari and Randy decided that what kids in our area needed most was a warm and inviting place for kids to feel at home. They immediately began the process for establishing and funding a new nonprofit which they named the Sumner Teen Center.
“The center is here to help kids develop social and life skills by providing them with a safe, nurturing environment,” says Shari. “We are trying to fill the gap between what parents and schools can’t do for kids.”
Located at Grassland Place in Gallatin, the Sumner Teen Center provides middle school, high school and home school students with a safe and fun place to hang out with other kids. Along with providing lots of entertaining activities, the Sumner Teen Center also offers many learning programs, including driver’s education, an improv and acting techniques, art and music lessons and graphic arts training. In addition, the center has begun teaching teens basic life skills, such as interviewing for jobs, cooking from scratch, working with others and handling personal finances.
“Our learning programs are different; we don’t do them in a classroom setting,” says Stacy Douglas, Programs/Operations Director at the center. “We don’t do PowerPoint presentations or lectures. We want our teens to learn by experience and interaction through fun activities.”
Despite all of the programs provided by the center, it still takes time for new students to become acclimated.
“It takes most kids about four months after they start coming here before they feel truly at home,” says Shari. “It warms my heart to watch them transition from their initial shyness to feeling like they own the place.”
Since its inception, the center has served over 2,100 area teens through its multiple offerings, at no cost to the students nor their parents. Financial support is provided by various entities, including the Tennessee Department of Transportation, local foundations and individuals. Additional money is also raised through various fundraising activities, including a spring golf tournament and a fall “When Pigs Fly” event. This year, the fall event will be expanded into a weekend festival in conjunction with HolidayFest.
“Like any nonprofit, we are always looking for new sources of funding,” says Shari. “While we operate as leanly as we can, it still costs us over $4,000 each month just to open our doors.”
Ultimately, the mission of the Sumner Teen Center is quite simple.
“All kids are valuable blessings from God, and they are capable of doing great things,” says Shari. “They just need someone to care about them, and we do.”
Sumner Teen Center
976 Grassland Place, Gallatin