Model citizen – Student creates Teens Nurturing Teens

Story and photo by Molly Bowman

For Laura Leigh Turner, being a pageant girl means so much more than just being a pretty face. The North Little Rock teen began competing in pageants just two years ago, after being inspired by her older sister.

“When I saw Abby involved with the Miss Arkansas system, I realized that they (pageants) really do give you a voice,” said Laura Leigh. “It offers a way to pick a platform to support a great cause and encourages teens like me to get involved in the community.”

Over the course of the past two years, Laura Leigh has been involved in Miss America Outstanding Teen Inc. at a local level. The program is a scholar- ship opportunity that strives to highlight teens that excel in the four MAOT points: scholastic achievement, healthy living, creative accomplishment and community involvement.

In 2012, Laura Leigh won the title of Miss Diamond Lakes Outstanding Teen, giving her the opportunity to move on to compete for the state title in June. During preliminaries, Turner received awards for evening wear, active wear and talent portions of the event. Her greatest achievement, however, was when she took home the title of Miss Arkansas Outstanding Teen on the final night.

In preparing for this competition, each contestant must choose a platform for which they will advocate. For Laura Leigh, selecting her platform was an easy decision. Inspired by her younger cousin, Jessica, who has Down Syndrome, Laura Leigh created an organization called TNT, which stands for Teens Nurturing Teens.

“She (Jessica) has opened up my eyes to her sweet little loving heart and has really made me aware of the disabled teenagers that I come in contact with on a daily basis,” said Laura Leigh.

The purpose of TNT is to motivate and encourage typical developing teens to create bonding friendships with the teens they are around with special needs. Laura Leigh strives to lead by example in this way, showing her friends and students at her high school that the gap of friendship is not as large as one might think. Ultimately, the challenge is just for people to reach out to those around them, meeting social and emotional needs of students everywhere.

Since selecting this platform, she has become a Special Olympics coach, volunteering her time to help students with special needs enjoy athletic competitions they might not otherwise be able to participate in.

“My goal is that teenagers realize what an impact these smiles will make on their lives and how a small, kind deed will forever affect them,” said Turner in regards to TNT. “When deciding on a platform, I wanted to choose something that I knew I was really and truly passionate about.”