A little over 7 years ago, a group of community members had an idea. They wanted to start an afterschool activity club for youth in grades 6-12. The primary purpose of this project was to deter youth from engaging in criminal activity, while helping them ready themselves for the workforce.
After offering a variety of activities at the local library with limited success, the program director began talking with the youth she wished to serve. So many youth shared a desire for a safe place to hang out with their friends that was designed for and by kids that the program director and her advisory board began looking for a place for Newport’s middle and high school aged youth to call their own. In the Fall of 2004, the NET Teen Center opened in the basement of the First Baptist Church. Since then over 200 (approximately 1/3 of their target population) youth a year have participated in activities at and sponsored by the teen center.
People often ask board members and staff what the key focus of the NET Teen Center is. Over the past 6 six years, we have learned that the key to success with Newport’s youth is relationships. The power of one successful adult-youth relationship is incredible. According to the Search Institute, both parents and other caring adults have a very significant impact on youth during their formative years. The relationships that young people establish with adults affect how they see the world and make choices when presented with difficult situations. The Search Institute suggests that many of the common practices at the teen center are best practices when forming supportive relationships with youth. The NET Teen Center fosters relationships with youth everyday by:
- asking about their day, their school work and showing an interest in them
- providing them with a safe place and healthy food choices
- sharing values and beliefs
- acknowledging when youth make good choices or do something nice for others
- celebrating important events in their lives, such as birthdays, holidays, their first day of school, a good report card, graduation, or new driver’s license
The success of the NET Teen Center can be tied to the relationships the adults form with the participants. Youth often define their attachment to a program or organization in terms of their relationship with a caring adult. Youth have reported such relationships matter in their lives, and studies have found these relationships to result in positive outcomes for those youth (Gambone & Arbreton, 1997; Grossman & Johnson, 1999; Jekielek, Moore, Hair, & Scarupa, 2002; Hererra, Sipe, McClanahan, Arbreton, & Pepper, 2000; National 4-H Impact Study, 2001; Rhodes, Grossman, & Resch, 2000; Sipe, 2000; Tierney et al., 1995). Over the past 6 years, the NET Teen Center staff have formed many positive relationships with its youth participants. Many of these youth were considered at-risk by the school system, some were even involved in the juvenile court system. Many of these same youth have graduated from high school in the last few years and have credited the teen center program with their successful completion of high school and their ability to make good choices in difficult life situations.