Speak up. Express yourself. Raise your voice. Do your thing. Say how you feel. Tell Your Story.
2016 was a big year for Georgia Teen Institute as participants were encouraged more than ever before to use their voices in BIG ways. From keynote speakers to team building activities, this year’s theme, Tell Your Story, was incorporated in everything we did.
Following a familiar GTI schedule of General Sessions, Family Groups, Team Meetings and Workshops, staff introduced new, exciting activities that engaged participants in the theme. Not only did everyone walk away with the confidence and motivation to tell their stories, they also left with new tools and skills to tell their stories well.
GTI 2016 was the year of telling your story. This is how it happened:
General Sessions are always super fun, high-energy parts of GTI as they are the only times (besides meals!) where all of the participants are in one room engaged in the same thing. We had the honor of inviting our new friends, M&P Presentations, to GTI for the first time to serve as our keynote speakers to kick off the week on the evening of Day 1. The dynamic duo, Matt and Phil, rocked GTI with a very important message: ordinary is extraordinary. This was the perfect way show participants how compelling and important it can be to share their stories. The world needs our stories, and all of our stories are full of greatness. We just have to tell them!
General Sessions also provided the unique opportunity to hear staff and participants tell their stories. Across the two weeks, over 25 youth took the stage to share important parts of themselves to their GTI family. We heard stories that included academic achievement following immigration to the United States and learning English as a second language, feeling at home after moving schools and taking the risk to join a Youth Action Team, becoming motivated to do great things after being raised by a strong single parent and traveling the country to inspire other youth after overcoming a difficult life situation. The list goes on and on. Each youth had something important to say, a story that touched lives all because they had the courage to tell it.
What often begins as an intimidating new experience, as participants join a new group of people from across the state that they don’t know, actually ends up being a favorite part of GTI in the hearts of many. It’s pretty cool starting off as just a group of strangers and being more like family by the end of the week. A big part of that is the bond that is created among participants as they make impressions on each other’s stories. Family Groups during GTI 2016 offered several opportunities for sharing about one’s self and getting to know new people as well. Activities such as the Get to Know You Storybook and All About Me provided opportunities for participants to share who they are with their peers. In addition, the loved tradition of Secret Pals allowed participants to write notes, hand make gifts and leave various treats on the Warm Fuzzy Board to show care for a peer in one’s Family Group, thus impacting their GTI story.
Not only did Family Groups provide a safe space for getting to know new people and sharing stories, several activities actually allowed participants to build skills necessary to tell their stories well through effective communication. Whether focusing on nonverbal communication like facial expressions, active listening or even multitasking, activities like Jump In, Jump Out and Say What? gave participants the opportunity to experience various types of miscommunication and reflect on mindful ways of improvement to communicate more effectively. This was so important to GTI 2016’s theme because it provided youth a time to develop new skills to help them tell their stories to the best of their abilities.
The very basis of Team Meetings encourages youth to consider ways to impact others’ stories. Using the Strategic Prevention Framework as a guide to identify a community issue and determine a project to improve conditions, participants begin the planning process in an undertaking that impacts stories in communities all across the state of Georgia. Not only does the work done at GTI touch communities and those who live in them, it shapes individual stories as youth participants grow as leaders who care about community service and prevention.
Activities done in Team Meetings this year, such as Pipeline and Walk Softly, encouraged working together as a team and establishing trust among members within each Youth Action Team. The type of trust established during this time together will be instrumental to success when they return home and implement their projects. Team Meetings provided an avenue to both develop the Youth Action Team’s story as a whole and allow each person to meaningfully consider how their involvement in the community impacts their individual stories.
A time when participants can choose to attend sessions on various topic areas that interest them, workshops provide opportunities to gain new knowledge and skills from experts in particular fields. This year, we offered several workshops that coincided with the Tell Your Story theme. From telling your story with one word only for GUIDE’s Red Ribbon Week campaign to learning why your story matters in the context of abstaining from alcohol and drug use, and from hands-on activities allowing youth to project their authentic voices with VOX Teen Communications to encouraging youth to stay focused on their futures with Yvonne Harvey-Williams, workshops at GTI 2016 empowered participants to tell their stories and gave them tools to do so like never before.
As you can see, GTI 2016 encouraged participants to tell their unique stories and further gave them valuable tools and skills to tell them effectively. Participants departed Oxford College with new understandings of how important our stories are and how much they can impact our communities.
We heard a lot of stories this summer. Stories of positive choices. Stories of drug-free fun. Stories of dreams to make big things happen. Though GTI 2016’s chapter may be closed, our biggest hope is that participants will look back on the program and feel inspired to continue telling their stories to the world around them. After all, those are the stories that can change the world.