Begun by the popular Jackson D.J. in 1997, the Adopt-a-Teen initiative provides Christmas for West Tennessee teenagers whose families are served by the Exchange Club-Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse.
"(Rusty Mac) and I worked at competing radio stations for several years," said Conrad Delaney, a retired Jackson D.J. who currently serves on the board of the Exchange Club-Carl Perkins Center in Jackson. "We were quite good friends and always said we would like to work together one day. And we did."
Delaney said Mac had lost a son at a very young age and realized as the Christmas season approached in the late 1990s that his son would have been a teenager. He contacted the Exchange Club-Carl Perkins Center and adopted a teen for Christmas.
"The next year, he thought, 'If there was one last year, there will be another this year,'" said Delaney. "They gave him 18. So he begged and pleaded on the air and got them all adopted."
The Rusty Mac Adopt-a-Teen program officially began in 1997.
When Mac died unexpectedly after suffering a heart attack, Delaney made a promise.
"When he passed away, Rita McCaslin and I made a vow that we would not let the program die," said Delaney. "Last year, (we served) 176 teenagers. This year, we have 210. (The program provides Christmas for) teens whose families are served by (Carl Perkins) centers."
That does not mean every teen eligible for the program has been abused - centers located throughout West Tennessee offer a wide range of services to clients in the area. Social workers and center directors at each Carl Perkins Center screen the teenagers and provide a list of names to the Jackson Center.
"What we try to do is raise $100 per teen," said Delaney. "When we get that done, the county director or the social worker of the county the child is in goes shopping for the teen."
Delaney said he was surprised at the items that regularly appear on the lists of teenagers served through the program.
"More times than not, it will be things like socks and underwear and shoes," said Delaney. "Sometimes even toothbrushes and toothpaste. It's hard to believe that a teen in West Tennessee would need those items for Christmas. Sometimes, they even ask for 'a present for my little brother or sister', now that reaches down and gets you by the heart strings."
Delaney said Mac felt teenagers were truly the forgotten children at Christmas time.
"Think about it," said Delaney. "The little people are taken care of. The elderly are taken care of. And the teenagers are just forgotten. It is hard for me to comprehend how a teen will feel on Christmas morning if their little brother or sister get presents and grandma and grandpa have something and they do not."
"While it is difficult for any child to understand and deal with being overlooked during the holidays, it is particularly hard for teenagers," said a press release on the program released by Exchange Club Carl Perkins Center Event Planner and Marketing Manager Stephanie Isaacs this week. "(Teens) are already dealing with their changing emotions, life decisions and peer pressure. ... You can help to make the holiday season brighter for teens who would otherwise have little or nothing to smile about during this time of year. The staff knows what these teens want, but they need the funds to make it happen. For $100, you can guarantee one teen feels loved and supported this holiday season."
Those interested in sponsoring a West Tennessee teenager through the Rusty Mac Adopt-a-Teen program may mail a check or money order to the Exchange Club-Carl Perkins Center, P.O. Box 447, Jackson TN 38302; donate by credit card over the phone at 731-668-4000; or give through PayPal at www.carlperkinscenter. org.
"We try to make it as easy as possible," said Delaney. "And every dime stays in West Tennessee."