“I get asked a lot what we do here, and it can be hard to describe,” says Aron Shelton, director of The Station in Springdale, Arkansas. “What we are is a north star for youth engagement—with programming that is constantly evolving and adapting to meet the needs of the teens we serve.”
The newest component of Northwest Arkansas’ Teen Action & Support Center, The Station has branded itself a “teen collaboratory,” taking a page from the growing popularity of co-working spaces for adults.
Supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, the bright, open former TV station hosts a range of programs for young adults.
Teens who visit The Station are finding new ways to find and express their voice in the community and beyond, through state-of-the-art recording technology for music and podcast production, a maker space led by a group of teens whose creations have won accolades across the country, and career exposure with some of the region’s most successful entrepreneurs.
From arts and culture, to STEM education and robotics, to counseling for students and parents, the offerings serve the most economically and ethnically diverse community in the region.
Aron, a socially conscious entrepreneur himself, co-founded Seeds that Feed prior to joining TASC. He is also an alumnus of a regional tech accelerator program and is working to bring that same “start-up energy” to inspiring and engaging teens in community-positive activities.
The Station also serves at-risk teens, including housing an office for the Washington County Juvenile Court that offers after-hours reporting and counseling.
So far, the results have been encouraging: The young men and women reporting to The Station are significantly less likely to reoffend when compared to their counterparts in the juvenile court system countywide.
Overall, the results include an exceptionally diverse cross-pollination of interests and opportunities, with theatre kids wandering into the Tech Hogs Robotics space, while at-risk teens take hip-hop theatre or sit in on a series about Marshallese or Latin American history.
This past fall, Aron and 21-year-old Sam Lopez, cultural arts producer at The Station and founder of Stitches, a youth arts and community engagement group that has a permanent home in the new space, teamed up for a unique community engagement project.
They wanted to produce a unique neighborhood block party. In the run-up to the event, they partnered with two classes from the University of Arkansas.
The first, a ‘Social Justice in the Arts’ class, offered art lessons and activities from the front porch of a home on the block. The second class, on 'Human-Centered Design,’ assisted in developing a brand and collecting neighborhood feedback. As children and parents began to stop by, they were able to gather important insights.
The resulting block party drew 250 people and celebrated what made this majority-Marshallese and Latinx community unique—from food and music, to dance and the arts, to a “dream wall” where young people could express their hopes for the future. “It was so beautiful,” said Sam. “The community felt ownership of the event. It created a sense of pride that, if we all just come together, we can celebrate one another.”
The Station’s youth ambassadors are key to this connectivity, helping craft the programming and connect their young peers to upcoming opportunities.
“We are finding that peer-to-peer instruction works better for engagement,” explains Aron, pointing to a recent partnership with 64.6 Downtown and The Crowne Group, which produces events for the Walmart AMP, the region’s premier music venue. This collaboration led to a music event production curriculum, a unique offering that empowers young people to successfully organize and produce their own concerts, festivals and other cultural events.
“With all the community resources available to us here in Northwest Arkansas, we are able to download this knowledge and translate it for a younger generation.”
One ambassador is 19-year-old Nicole Vásquez, a graduate of nearby Rogers New Technology High School. Nicole was introduced to the Teen Action & Support Center when she was trying to figure out how to translate her passion for skateboarding into community service for her college applications.
Through the center, she learned, “I have the freedom to create whatever I want.” Nicole went on to launch a local chapter of Skate for Change, a national program that strives to change the perception of skateboarding culture by cleaning up local downtowns and public parks.
Just as important for her community, Nicole stayed involved with the center and was among The Station’s first hires. “I hope that it’s a place for teens like me to come foster their ideas and create what they want to see in the world,” she says.
Giving teens the support to fulfill their creative potential—on whatever trajectory that potential might take—is what The Station is all about.
Despite the sometimes stark differences in interests and backgrounds of the teens that find themselves at The Station, Aron says the place has a way of bringing people together.
“You could have a kid who may have taken a wrong turn and a kid that’s balancing college and high school courses, and we’ve manifested nothing but connection and deepening relationships. We call it the vibe—and the vibe is all good.”