Cho-Zen Developing Youth Leaders -- and You Can Help the Cause

Kirsten O'Rourke


Kirsten O'Rourke


Feb 15, 2024

Cho-Zen Developing Youth Leaders -- and You Can Help the Cause

Located on the bottom of local non-profit group Cho-Zen’s website is a quote attributed to famed primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall:

“Every individual MATTERS. Every individual has a ROLE TO PLAY. Every individual makes a DIFFERENCE."

From its inception in 2021, Cho-Zen has embodied the spirit of Goodall’s infamous quote, as well as the vision of Springfield native and Cho-Zen founder Clarissa Gardner. A longtime employee of both the Robertson County School System and the University of Tennessee Extension program, Clarissa embraces the idea that empowering Robertson County students to take on leadership roles through community service equips them for the challenges facing today’s youth.

“God gave me the vision to focus on youth leadership and community service,” says Clarissa, “so we focus on getting them out into the community and helping them gain skills to prepare them for adulthood.”

With more than 14 years of youth development experience, Clarissa knows community service opportunities can often change the trajectory of a child’s life. She believes that truly being of service means transforming intention into action, an idea she instills in her mentees at Cho-Zen.

“Seeing the kids working together out in the community and building leadership skills along the way … that’s the Cho-Zen way,” she declares.

A registered non-profit, Cho-Zen sees its role in the community as reciprocal. While offering opportunities for organizations to request Cho-Zen volunteers to provide assistance for events, support from the community is what allows Cho-Zen to do so.

To that end, Cho-Zen’s current fundraiser is a Valentine’s Day partnership with Springfield’s Sugar Roots Bakery. By placing an order for cupcakes, cookies, or chocolate covered strawberries with Sugar Roots, all proceeds go directly to support Cho-Zen’s culinary program, which trains its participants in the basics of cooking.

Driven by the spirit of community service, Cho-Zen participants collectively logged an astonishing 682 community service hours last year, volunteering to assist with an assortment of events around Robertson County. The wide-ranging opportunities, Clarissa says, included “everything from the county fishing rodeo to the Stokes Brown Library’s Harry Potter Night to the Kiwanis Club annual pancake breakfast. Whatever people ask us to help with, we do it.”

In addition to volunteering, students are provided with workshops that allow them to prepare for the future.

“We do everything from college prep classes to creating vision boards, in an effort to help them see the big picture, and to realize that they can impact their own futures,” Clarissa explains.

Students come to Cho-Zen from all walks of life and vastly different backgrounds. Clarissa says she connects with a lot of these kids because of her own upbringing.

“When I was their age, my mother was a single parent who worked several jobs to support us,” she shares. “I don’t remember my mother ever sleeping, because she had so many jobs that she would just take naps in between them. I had a lot of responsibility as a child as a result, including maintaining the house, maintaining my grades, and taking care of my brother. We have a lot of kids in similar situations, so we try to bridge that gap and provide mentorship for kids who really need it.”

The Valentine’s Day pop-up is the perfect opportunity to give back to an organization that gives so much to the community. Giving back — it’s the Cho-Zen way!

To place an order:

For more information on Cho-Zen:

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