As students return to classrooms across Sumner County, officials with the Sumner Teen Center say they expect as many as 600 local teenagers will take advantage of the Gallatin-based nonprofit’s free after school programs throughout the upcoming school year.

“The goal is to provide a community for teenagers who aren’t plugged in anywhere,” founder Shari Campbell said. “If they’re not playing sports or with a youth program at church, they’re usually home on their (electronic) devices. So, I want to provide them with a face to face community where they can just get out and be mentored with real people and be around real kids.”

The nonprofit celebrated its fifth anniversary on Aug. 8 at its 4,000-square-foot youth center, located at 976 Grassland Place. It has been used by approximately 1,500 middle and high school students since opening in 2014.

In addition to offering a safe and fun place to hang out, the Sumner Teen Center also has a free drivers education program, theater program, music lessons, computer lab and graphic arts program for students. There are also lectures and other lessons that help teach interview skills, teamwork, cooking and how to balance a checkbook.

“What we’re trying to do is support the schools… and help parents with what they can’t do by supplementing those two efforts to raise kids to be independent, successful and wanting to get out of the house and live on their own,” Campbell said. “We’re trying to fill in the gap.”

While the Sumner Teen Center picks up students from middle and high schools in Gallatin, the nonprofit is open to any teenager currently attending school in Sumner County. Applications can be filled out anytime during the school year online at www.sumnerteencenter.org.

The Sumner Teen Center’s facility is also available to be used for free by groups that serve teenagers like youth and homeschool groups.

“It’s a huge asset to our area,” Mayor Paige Brown said about the nonprofit. “The more options that are out there for teens, the less likely they are to find negative ways to get engaged in the community.”

Securing funding each year can be “very difficult” and comes almost entirely from community support since students are not charged to attend, said Campbell. It costs the nonprofit on average $35 each month for every student that uses the facility.

While it can be a struggle at times, Campbell said the positive impacts being made in the lives of so many students makes it all worth it.

“(The most rewarding part) is bringing these kids into a real life with real people and showing them that they can accomplish anything if they just make that first step, which we’ll help them with,” Campbell added. “Plus, to see kids learn how to support each other and be kind in this world today just brings tears to your eyes.”

For more information about the Sumner Teen Center, including how to donate, visit www.sumnerteencenter.org or call 615-530-8248.

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