HEBER SPRINGS When Barbara Owens first moved to Heber Springs with her kids a year ago, the family was struck by one thing: There was little for teens to do.
“There’s nothing out here in this community for the teenagers to do except get in trouble,” Owens said. “At some point, what do you do? You can listen and be there for your kids, or you can get out and change it.”
Owens had heard stories of bullying, suicide and teen pregnancy that her kids’ friends were dealing with at school. She decided to do what she could to help.
Last April, Owens began working on the idea for Teen Recruiters.
“We have a few places where kids can go hang out, but that’s not what I wanted to do,” Owens said. “I wanted to give teens an opportunity to get involved in their community in a way that can help them in the future with jobs or college applications.”
When it gets fully off the ground, Owens sees Teen Recruiters as a nonprofit organization focused on getting Heber Springs-area teenagers out in the community through paid jobs and volunteer work. The group has about 20 teens signed up, with plans under way to launch their first service projects this spring and summer.
Owens said she was recently contacted about getting Teen Recruiters involved in the new community garden being launched in Heber Springs. She said her goal is for other local organizations to use Teen Recruiters as a way to staff their projects while helping local kids gain valuable work experience.
“This is a chance for teens to have better references on applications for jobs or for college,” Owens said. “These kids are the future of our community, so let’s get them workforce ready. I don’t think there’s any way we can go wrong in this.”
Rhonda Ferguson, a Teen Recruiters board member, was immediately drawn to the idea of getting teens more involved in Heber Springs. With two 20-something daughters who were raised in the area, Ferguson understands the need to keep teens busy.
“Having more opportunities to get experience for a job is priceless,” Ferguson said.
While she would like Teen Recruiters to have paid job opportunities for the teenagers as soon as possible, Ferguson knows that will take time. Meanwhile, she sees the opportunities for volunteer work to be just as vital.
“I know from my own experience that volunteering works,” Ferguson said. “For me, nonprofit volunteering ended up getting me a full-time job.”
In addition to providing experience and references for résumés, Owens hopes Teen Recruiters will give area teenagers a chance to explore their interests. To help encourage her love of photography, Owens named Quitman teen Shelby Burrows as the program’s official photographer.
“She’s just a sophomore, and having these photos in her portfolio could open a lot of doors,” Owens said.
After moving to Heber Springs from Albuquerque a little more than a year ago, Kendi Geist has seen her 18-year-old daughter struggle to “find her spot.” Geist said she hopes that getting involved in Teen Recruiters will help her daughter find her niche.
“These kids have been here their whole lives,” Geist said. “Getting involved in volunteering is a way for teens new to the community to meet other kids.”
For now, Owens is staying busy getting the word out on Teen Recruiters to students in the Heber Springs area. Owens said she has been happy about the support for the program that has been shown by Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson and state Rep. Josh Miller of Heber Springs.
She hopes that more public support and job opportunities are not far behind.
“I’m being contacted by teens interested in joining every day,” Owens said. “I really want the teens to look back and think, ‘Wow, I was a part of that.’”
More information about Teen Recruiters is available at teenrecruiters.org.
Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or email@example.com.