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Oasis Center: Empowering Young People, Strengthening Communities

June 13, 2023

Make a Reading Investment in Oasis’s Work During the Summer Reading Challenge

For years, Nashville Public Library (NPL) has issued a simple call to launch our Summer Reading Challenge: “Read; track your minutes; earn free prizes.”

But this year, things are different. Because this year, Summer Reading = Summer Giving.

sign up now

As we read to support three great Nashville nonprofits, we invite you to learn more about our community partners and the great work they do. 

Today, we’re taking a deeper look at Oasis Center, which serves young people in need and helps them overcome their challenges to become the very best people they can be.

Prom Night

Some of them wore formal dresses and tuxedos, bright jewelry and colorful cummerbunds. Others were cosplaying, decked out in sashes, robes, and other accouterments worn by pop culture icons. And some kept it casual with jeans and t-shirts. 

It was Prom Night at Oasis Center — you know, that yearly ritual where some partygoers strut their stuff on the dance floor; some stay closer to the wall, talking to friends; and a few others cement themselves to the punch bowl or snack table.

At this prom, though, guests had three pretty significant things in common.

They were all middle or high schoolers; they were all members of the LGBTQ+ community; and they were all attending a prom organized exclusively for them by Oasis Center.

And to hear Joseph Clark tell it, it couldn’t have been more perfect.

“We bring in a DJ; it’s catered. We give our young people every opportunity to dress as fully and authentically to express themselves as they want. They bring a date of their choice,” Joseph said. “We realize not everyone gets the quintessential prom experience with their own school offerings. So, we create this magical evening for them, and that’s just so special.”

As the program manager for Oasis Center’s Just Us program, for Joseph, nights like Prom Night represent what the core of his mission is: creating a community for a community.

That’s what Oasis Center is all about.

Joseph Clark (back row, far left) joins Oasis Center staff, volunteers, and program attendees for Prom Night. (Image courtesy of Joseph Clark/Oasis Center.)

A Community for a Community

As a program, Just Us is focused on providing support for LGBTQ+ youth in Tennessee. Through online and in-person meetings, support sessions, and special events like Prom Night, Joseph and his staff connect young people and their families with resources to explore their identity in a safe environment, navigate family acceptance of their identity, and connect with other members of the LGBTQ+ community.

That last bit is crucial, since some of the young people going through the program live in more secluded areas and are one of the few — if not the only — LGBTQ+ members of their community, according to a study published by the Movement Advancement Project.

And as a member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, Joseph gets it.

“I couldn’t do this work if I didn’t serve as that piece of visibility and representation for our young people,” Joseph said. “Every day, you have people who went through the Just Us program and reach back out to say, ‘Because of you, I saw that I could grow into more — that I wasn’t alone.’ They know there’s a whole world out there for them now, and that’s always gratifying to see them come to that realization.”

Just Us is only a single aspect of what Oasis Center offers. In fact, staff and volunteers provide 18 varied programs and resources to get young people the help and support they need. 

An Oasis Called Oasis

When the “Rap House” opened in 1969, it was a single community center — staffed exclusively by volunteers — dedicated to helping young people who had run away from home and were dealing with drug and alcohol addiction. As the years progressed, “Rap House” progressed, as well — more staff, more people served, more services.

Today, the “Rap House” is Oasis Center. Different name, same work: help young people who are struggling overcome their challenges and become the best they can possibly be.

While they continue their legacy services to address homelessness and mental health issues in youth, Oasis now also tackles leadership development, youth representation in Metro Nashville government, improving college access, expanding public transit opportunities, developing skills in and appreciation of the arts, and more.

From its fairly humble origins, Oasis has evolved into a comprehensive youth development agency that serves more than 3,500 young people and their families every year.

Joseph (far left) and young people from Just Us attend a performance of "Six: the Musical." (Image courtesy of Joseph Clark/Oasis Center.)
Joseph Clark (far left) and Just Us participants attend a performance of "Six: The Musical." (Image courtesy of Joseph Clark / Oasis Center.)

Anything but Cookie-Cutter

“Across the agency, our programs are either the only of their kind or the first of their kind. Other agencies you see can be cookie-cutter in that, regardless of background, it’s the same experience for everyone. That’s not how we work,” Joseph said. “You have to be in tune with peoples’ unique experiences, what they’re bringing with them, what their goals are. What’s so special about Oasis is that we’re not afraid to try different things, and adjust what’s not working to reach every young person who reaches out to us.”

That tailored approach — that deep understanding of a person’s needs — is a crucial aspect of what Oasis does, and how. Everything they do is firmly rooted in the principles of Positive Youth Development and Trauma-Informed Care. The people who come to Oasis are often facing severe challenges. To Joseph, that connection is the key to helping them.

“We always strive to be sensitive and aware of the ever-changing mental health needs of our youth. We have young people who need to be connected to a therapist, and need ongoing treatment to get better. Others just need access to positive youth development — being in spaces with their peers, having access to opportunities, and being surrounded by positive role models. For some people, that experience is life-changing in and of itself,” Joseph said.

Support Oasis, and Our City’s Young People, Through the Summer Reading Challenge

There’s no shortage of young people in crisis, and — for all the great work Oasis Center does —  there’s always more to do.

You can help them reach even more people by participating in our Summer Reading Challenge. For every 15 days you log reading, you earn a vote to cast for three of our partner nonprofits — including Oasis Center — to receive a share of a $9,000 donation.

But time’s short: we’re nearly half-way to the Challenge wrap-up on July 31. So if you haven’t signed up yet, we highly encourage you to do so today.

While you’re at it: make a plan to join Oasis Center at our Southeast Branch Library on June 24 for Teen Volunteer Day.

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Ed's a proud member of NPL's Marketing and Communications team. Some of his favorite books include Dracula, Once an EagleNeuromancerStarship TroopersThe Black CompanyBerserkBlade of the ImmortalBlame! and Vampire Hunter D. When not at the Library, you'll find him spending time with his wife and son, doing interval training, reading, or waiting for the next FromSoftware game.


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