A local program that participates in informal modeling and fashion shows, as well as having its participants act as ambassadors to Chandler Fashion Center, is set to conduct auditions this weekend.

Teen Board Arizona, begun last year out of individuals involved in the Ahwatukee Children's Theatre, is hosting auditions for the group on Saturday, June 25 at Chandler Fashion Center in front of the Gap clothing store, from noon to 2 p.m.

"The thing I love most about Teen Board is that anyone can do it: Kids with different backgrounds, who are diverse, who have confidence, or who need a little more, can all participate in the program," Teen Board founder and director Yvette Dickson explained.

These auditions will jump-start the second year of the program. Teen Board will host two five-month sessions, one from July to November and another from January to May 2012. Program fees range from $300 for teenage participants, $200 for preteens and $100 for children. In total, 35 individuals will be selected for each session.

Acting as ambassadors to Chandler Fashion Center means that the kids assist with mall special events and participate in mall fashion shows, among other activities.

Riley Kocsis, 14, notes one specific instance of assisting the mall during Midnight Madness, the night and morning of Black Friday last November. Teen Board participants came to the mall from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. to help with set-up for the early opening of the stores a few hours later.

"We hold workshops for participants as well," Dickson said. "Last year, we did workshops on character improvisation; color matching; tips on skin, hair and make-up; musical theater; acting 101 and runway modeling with Ford Models runway coach Tanya Barnes-Matt."

Riley's favorite workshops were make-up and the etiquette lesson. She still uses the tips she learned from the etiquette lecture to this day, she says.

Dickson has her own favorite of all the workshops: Personal branding. The lecture, given by Dr. Joel Martin, taught the children how to be positively powerful people.

"I think personal branding is so important, but a lot of kids are missing that today," Dickson explained. "The way you present yourself in a college or job interview allows you to differentiate yourself from everyone else."

For the parents of Teen Board children, the benefits of the program cannot be understated.

"[Teen Board] really helped to build self-esteem and confidence for my daughter," said Angela Hart, parent of 11-year-old Allyson. "She made meaningful progress in public speaking and now feels confident to speak out loud in a crowd."

Tara Jenkins, 15, agreed with the sentiment expressed by Hart, adding that Teen Board allowed her to learn a lot about herself and ways that she can help others. Rebecca Kocsis, 10, pointed out that the public speaking workshop has allowed her to talk a lot more in public, and feel a lot more comfortable about doing so.

Suzanne Kocsis encouraged her two daughters, Riley and Rebecca, to get involved because of personal experience.

"I was on a Teen Board when I was in high school in Albuquerque, N.M., and I remembered the benefits it had brought me," Kocsis said. "My family had also spent 14 years being involved with ACT, so this was a great opportunity to meet new families and kids."

The meshing of age groups - Dickson says there were kids involved from ages 4 to 17 - helped to create a familial atmosphere for both the kids and the parents.

Kimberly Reitzel, parent of 12-year-old Savannah, identified the group of 35 as one big family. Angela Hart agreed, highlighting a Valentine's breakfast with more than 60 individuals, children and parents, as an example that the Teen Board participants had become a family.

Amy Kelso, whose 8-year-old son Mac and 6-year-old daughter Camilla were involved last year, said that her son succeeded after being encouraged by kids older than him in the program.

"The older kids mentored him," Kelso explained. "For instance, when the kids did mannequin walking, Mac did it well and enjoyed it so much. Teen Board truly made an amazing transformation in him."

Not only did the individuals involved become like a family but, as Dickson notes, the children had the opportunity to act as role models for those who see the kids modeling or participating in events at CFC.

"We acted as role models to younger girls," Savannah Reitzel said. "It felt really good that someone wanted to be like you."

Dickson explains that the role model aspect of the program is one of the most important facets of Teen Board.

"It's beautiful because our kids represent today's teen or child. When they model [at CFC] people see what stuff looks like on an average person, not a 6-foot-tall woman who is a size zero. We have everything from a size 0 to a size 16, from short to tall, and that is realistic for today's society."

Chandler Fashion Center has seen the potential of these kids, and is planning to use them in more events, according to Dickson. The mall is also doing its own promotion of the auditions to try and get more kids from other areas of the Valley.

"I think Teen Board teaches you the importance of inner beauty within yourself," Dickson added. "Having a beautiful heart lies first and foremost - everything else just follows."

Anna Gunderson is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a freshman at Arizona State.

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