Ashley and Jeff Contreras make a difference for Delavan-Darien youth
Family: Husband, Jeff, an American bulldog, Nellie, and a boxer, Zuzu.
Favorite hobby or pastime: "Spending time with the people I love."
Favorite movie: "It's a Wonderful Life"
Role model: "My mom. She's awesome!"
Favorite quote: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." –Gandhi
Three words that best describe you: Passionate, caring and easy-going.
Something your friends may not know about you: "Jeff and I are hoping to adopt children from Ethiopia someday."
Jeffrey James Contreras
Family: A beautiful wife and two crazy dogs
Favorite hobby or pastime: Musky fishing
Favorite movie: "Cinderella Man"
Role model: The Rev. John Grant, pastor of Calvary Gospel Church, Madison.
Favorite quote: "Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." –Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Three words that best describe you: Simple, determined, fun.
Something your friends may not know about you: "I pray for them almost every day."
DARIEN On a wintry night in January, a troubled teen stretched out on the couch at the home of Ashley and Jeff Contreras in Darien.
Ashley and Jeff listened to the young man. They offered encouragement.
Most of all, they showed him they cared.
Ashley and Jeff do not have any children of their own yet. But their home is often filled with young people.
At 26 and 25, Ashley and Jeff are already showing how much they love children and teens.
Let's start with Ashley. She has spearheaded an effort in Delavan-Darien to establish a Boys & Girls Club and is watching the dream creep closer to reality.
"I was completely blown away by the lack of services for kids after school," she said. "I remember talking to Jeff and saying, 'We have to do something.' I see these kids falling through the cracks because there's no support for them."
Ashley is community outreach coordinator for the Delavan-Darien School District. Her responsibilities include efforts to establish a club.
"Children are let out of school now at 2:30 p.m. with no supervision," she said. "These kids need to know the community cares about them."
Superintendent Wendy Overturf has worked with Ashley for several years.
"Ashley is putting forth a tremendous amount of effort to establish a Boys & Girls Club," Overturf said. "She feels strongly about things for kids. This truly is a calling for her."
Others also have noticed Ashley's determination.
"Ashley has extreme dedication and passion for youth," said Jodi Martin, regional director of Boys & Girls Clubs of America. "Ashley is very committed."
Both Ashley and Jeff are mentors to young people, who come to them in a variety of ways.
"I've always cared about kids," Jeff said. "But my wife taught me a thing or two."
Their first date was lunch. Ashley came with four boys who looked up to her as a big sister.
Ashley met them when she lived in Madison. For six years, she did community outreach in the Allied Drive neighborhood, where many low-income families live.
At 19, Ashley sold her sports car and bought a minivan because she spent time with so many children. On Sundays, she helped get families by bus to Madison's Calvary Gospel Church, where her father is the associate pastor. Later, she was a program leader at the Allied Learning Center in Madison.
"My life revolved around kids in the Allied Drive neighborhood," she said.
After she and Jeff married, Ashley moved to Darien. It broke her heart to be away from her young Madison friends. But it didn't take Ashley long to get to work in Walworth County, where Jeff was raised.
Jeff grew up in Delavan. As a youth, he experimented with drugs. But his mother got him to change.
"What turned me around was God," Jeff said. "I promised my mother I would go to church. Something happened that day. From that moment on, I realized I had been living for all the wrong things."
Today, Jeff is senior pastor at Rock of Jesus Church in Elkhorn.
He counsels, advises and listens to church members, including young people.
Ed Herman presides over Jeff's church. Both are pastors with United Pentecostal Church International.
"Jeff lived hard and fast when younger," Herman said. "Because of that, he has a soft spot for young people."
Herman calls Jeff charismatic.
"Young people gravitate toward him," he said. "They identify with his energy. The second thing that draws people to him is his message. He was filled with the baptism of the Holy Ghost at age 15. It was life changing. Young people are searching for something. When they receive the Holy Ghost experience, it really changes their lives."
Ashley and Jeff don't ever want to be guilty of giving up on a child.
"If more people reached out and cared," Ashley said, "they could make a difference in the lives of young people."