The CGTI Blog is our spot for updating our communities on our latest news as well as the latest news on prevention, mental health, and other relevant topics. The CGTI Blog features guest spots from our Action Teams, Volunteer Staff and our Youth Advisory Committee!

My Leadership Journey

June 20, 2024

Ever since I was a little girl, I've always been a leader. I've never been one to shy away from the cameras, not raise my hand in class to answer a question, or not give  presentations or at church to participate in a game or activity. I've always known that I had leadership qualities, but I never knew how to fully take hold of them and become the leader I was truly called to be. In different parts of my journey, I struggled with the thought that I was not good enough to lead and thought it was better to follow instead. I eventually figured out that I was born to lead others with compassion, grace, and a steady hand. CGTI definitely helped me get to where I am today. Here is the story of how I got there.  

During elementary school when I lived in Texas, I never had any problem acting like I was a leader. But I would always end up bumping heads with other students because we wanted to do different things, and I always wanted to be in control. When I came to Illinois in 5th grade, I definitely shied away from being a leader because I was bullied, which lowered my self esteem and definitely brought up some insecurities. 

After that year, I transferred schools and did find it easier to be more like myself at school, though during 5th through middle school never had any issues leading at church within the kids ministry. At my new school during my 6th and majority of my 7th grade year, even though I was the new student, I was able to work well in group settings and make sure everyone was on task. When COVID-19 hit, I definitely missed the lack of community and working with people in person during that time period, which I would say affected my leadership skills because they were dormant for this time. 

In 8th grade, we were allowed, since I was at a smaller private school, to return to school using a hybrid model. It was definitely a bit awkward for me seeing people in person again and having to work with people and problem solve. But after a few months, I had finally found my groove, except this time, I was allowing harmful outside voices to influence my leadership decisions. At that time, though it is not something I'm proud of and not something I recommend doing, I did lead a small “revolt” against our gym teacher by telling everyone to not go to his classes on Wednesdays. It lasted a couple months and the majority of the class did it, which shows that yes I did have leadership qualities at this time but used them wrongly. 

Before I entered high school my parents told me to take the “bull by the horns” - in other words, to make the most of my four years. The first thing I did besides sitting in front of the class and communicating with teachers was to make an appointment with my counselor just to meet her and see who I would be working with for the next four years. She was the one who told me about Operation Snowball! It seemed like a fun way to get involved and use my leadership skills for a good cause so I joined. 

Before the end of the summer she told us about CGTI, a summer conference to enhance our leadership skills. I was all in! I came in not at all knowing what to expect and definitely had a major shock when I first got there but easily adjusted to the CGTI songs and games. I most certainly did not want to leave. But I knew I wanted to come back next year as a PALS. 

So, that next year, I came back and had the absolute best time and really began to understand what It meant to be a leader and to not only take care of others’ mental heath, but to also take care of my mental health, which I had definitely neglected that year. I was able to understand why people had always seen me as a leader and finally understood that I was good enough to be a leader. I felt more confident in my goals and dreams for the future and knew that CGTI and Snowball were going to help me for my future endeavors. So, this year I submitted my application for the Teen Ambassadors and got interviewed and got in. I knew that this was where I was meant to be and that I could be a good leader and help my community in the process. It isn't easy, and I've definitely had some bumps in the road. But through all of these experiences, especially going through CGTI as a participant, PALS, and hopefully this summer as Youth Staff, I can continue to use my leadership skills to create positive change in my community and in the world.


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My CGTI Experience

June 11, 2024

The first time going into CGTI, I had no idea what to expect.

The first few days while being at the conference, I had wanted to go home. As the days went on, I learned to let myself grow and expand my boundaries to let me be the person  I want to be. The workshops we had, the friends I made during the week, and the memories I had created with many other people, had me ready to come back for next time.

After leaving CGTI, there was a feeling of going home but also going away from home. 

After being left alone to reminisce over my CGTI experience, it led me to be more open with myself and let me be free. I truly believe that this conference is the reason why I now am who I am. I was asked the question, “What is your why?” I went home that night and started to think, “Do I have a why? How do I know if I even have a why for what I do?”

I found that my why is to make the people around me laugh and smile and spread positivity to others who may or may not need it. 

CGTI has opened me up in many ways I didn’t think would be possible - it’s now made me be more comfortable with myself and to do things because I want to do them and not to join in because others are doing it. I’ve learned how to be comfortable in my own skin and how to express that within my bubble of people that I know. 


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It's All About Balance

May 21, 2024

Balancing all aspects of your life is very important. However, it is a challenging task. Balance is something that I am still trying to grasp today. Being a busy teenager involved in numerous activities inside and outside of school requires much of my time. Due to my busy schedule, areas of my social, physical, mental, and spiritual life can sometimes be negatively affected. It can be hard to attend all of your after-school clubs while wanting to hang out with your friends or go to the gym for the day.

That said, I believe it is important to allow ourselves to rest and take a break. Sometimes taking a reset is what we need to be able to have a healthy and effective start to our day. When I feel that I am not properly balancing my life, I take a step back and analyze what I can say no to. Once I’ve removed a stressor, I then try to better organize myself and my day so that all areas of my life benefit from whatever I am doing!


Tagged As: CGTI Mental Health
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Perfectionism and Comfort Zones

May 14, 2024

You know that quote, “Your comfort zone will kill you?” Do you also know the saying, “There is no such thing as perfect?” These ideas had me struggling for a long time. I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go because of the fear of messing up and not being considered “perfect.” My comfort zone is not what most would consider though. I think of mine as putting so much effort in, that I feel safe about it being enough. I felt uncomfortable to slow down and listen to what my mind and body were telling me, I didn’t want to go unnoticed and I wanted to push myself to be the best I could be while also staying on top. I never gave myself a break and struggled to find balance in my life with school, sports, and other activities I was a part of. I now realize that’s not how anyone thrives, and I’m learning the new idea of “perfectly imperfect.”

I’ve been what they call a “perfectionist” all of my life. I’ve always been a hard worker and wanted good results, which when I was younger, I usually achieved. It took me some time to learn as I’ve gotten older that just because you put tons of effort into something, doesn’t mean it’s always going to result in your favor, and that’s okay. Previously, I would have thought of this as a failure and been scared to reach out of my comfort zone because I didn’t want to look “weak” or “imperfect” when attempting something I had never even tried before … I know … sounds dumb now that I’m older. Of course, people are born with natural strengths and abilities, but no one is going to try something new and be “perfect” at it the first time around. No one ever achieves this unattainable idea of “perfection.” We are all students of life and learning is a huge part of that.

A lot of my inner conflict came from my wanting to find a purpose. I wasn’t sure for the majority of high school how I was an important part of my community, and if I even mattered. I felt if I could work hard to be better at things than others, I would be noticed and feel like I was making something of myself. This only led me to burn out and some scary mental health scares that lead me to a different way of approaching things.

I started involving myself a lot with our students in my high school with special needs. I had always been passionate about helping others achieve their goals and feeling good about themselves, but in the past couple of years I have found a true love for it. I’m in what we call our MC classroom during my gym. It stands for “multiple capabilities” classroom and is designed to help students with varying disabilities. I work with them in communicating with devices and signs, learning their personalities, and helping them feel part of our student body. That is adapting games so they can play from their wheelchairs and treating them just like any other teenager. They are all high school kids with high school brains. They just have different ways of expressing themselves and communicating. They have taught me to slow down and ENJOY the little things. I was moving so quickly before, I would miss special moments. They celebrate everything, big and small, for everyone around them. I saw that we can all use some of that too regardless of our situation.

These past couple of months have been the best months of my life. I have learned to fail and know that those failures don’t make me any less of a person. I’m involved with the people I love being with and take pride in my efforts in school and sports. I have spent more time with my family and have been able to connect with them more. I have discovered so much of myself that I never knew because I was so exhausted working to achieve “perfection.” I’m going to college to work in the medical field specializing in taking care of kids with special needs. So much of my life has been unfolded by simply letting go of my unreachable standards that I would always keep raising. So, if you get two things from reading through my story, know that the idea of “perfection” and your comfort zone are just distractions from you living the life you want to live.


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Leaving for College

April 10, 2023

I will be finished with my last year of high school in 9 weeks. I will graduate in 72 days. I will be starting college in 164 days. Those facts all make me very excited and nervous all at the same time. Leaving for college can be scary but I also know that it’s going to be a fun new experience for me. I also draw comfort from the fact that I will only be an hour away from home. Another thing that helps me feel more prepared for meeting so many new people is my experiences with CGTI and Operation Snowball. In college, I will be studying Early Childhood Education to earn my bachelor’s degree. I am hoping that my experiences with CGTI will help me in my area of study. Leadership qualities that I have been able to improve at CGTI will be a tremendous asset to my studies and future career. 

Attending CGTI Events has let me make a variety of new friends and I hope that the skills I have learned at making new friends will transfer over to college as well. Introducing yourself to someone new can seem really scary but a majority of the time they are trying to work up the courage to introduce themselves to someone new as well. Everyone wants to make connections in a new place to feel at home, so being too scared only delays the feeling of comfort. The advice that I am giving myself as I finish my senior year and get ready to start college is to always remember that you may regret chances you don’t take. So my point is to go big and hope for the very best while stepping out of your comfort zone.


Tagged As: CGTI YAC
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Start Embracing "Break Culture" This Spring!

March 27, 2023

Tagged As: CGTI YAC Mental Health
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Live From Charleston, It's Tuesday Night Live!

June 1, 2022

CGTI 2022 is just around the corner and that means it's time to start preparing for some of our favorite Teen Institute traditions! 

One of CGTI's most beloved activities is Tuesday Night Live, our annual talent show. The talent show takes place Tuesday evening and is led by our Activity Coordinators. Any participant is welcome to participate - try outs are held by our ACs during Monday and Tuesday free time - and to share there talents with us! Our PALS participants always peform a group number together of their making. 

Talents in the past have ranged from singing and dancing to poetry reads and skits to funny stories and jokes and beyond. The stage is open to any and all talents, and participants are welcome to bring items from home - like intruments - for the event! Try outs are required to ensure that the ACs are prepared for any specific AV needs (music, microphone, stand, etc), that there's enough time for all performers and that performances are age appropriate. We'll have microphones, music-playing capabilities, and a piano available. The rest is up to you! 

Performing during Tuesday Night Live is a great opportunity to take healthy risks, get out of your comfort zone and create memories with friends new and old. This is a time for you to be creative, have fun and enjoy one of the most special parts of the CGTI experience - its open and positive atmosphere. It's also a great opportunity as an audience member to cheer on your fellow CGTI family members who are taking those risks to get on stage. 

Tuesday Night Live has remained a favorite part of the Teen Institute for decades now because of the supportive, energetic and familial atmosphere it provides. This is your time to shine and your time to appreciate the shine that others have too!  We hope you'll consider taking part, but if you're more comfortable and excited to take it all in from your seat, we look forward to clapping and singing with you too. 

If you have any questions about Tuesday Night Live, a talent you want to perform or CGTI, don't forget that you can reach out to us on social media or at or! 


Posted In: Positivity
Tagged As: CGTI
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The Idea of Self-Concept

May 26, 2022

Self-Concept is defined as “an idea of the self-constructed from the beliefs one holds

about oneself and the responses of others”. It is how we view ourselves, which is why it

is very important that one's self-concept is healthy and positive.

Some ways I help improve my self-concept is:

- Take long walks

- Start a new hobby

- Read a new book

- Watch a movie

- Volunteer with local organizations

- Cook

Ways to maintain self-concept:

- Have a schedule

- Set time for relaxation

- Build good communication skills

- Seek out new opportunities

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Dealing With School Stress

May 16, 2022

Grades, scholarships, and college - all of these things give high schoolers today so much stress in their daily lives. This stress can negatively affect these teens' lives in many ways. So, how can students today mitigate their stress surrounding school?

Calming Techniques

I find that calming techniques really help during a stressful situation. One simple one that can be incredibly helpful is breathing in for five seconds and then out for five seconds. Another calming technique that may be helpful to you during a stressful situation would be to look around yourself and name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and finally, one thing you can taste. 

Taking Care of Yourself

School can be stressful and feel very time consuming. However, taking care of yourself and your body should always be your first priority. For instance, if you are feeling overly stressed, try eating a meal, taking a shower, or even just simply going to bed. 

Do What Makes You Happy

Something I find helps me when I am most stressed while doing my calculus homework is stopping whatever problem I'm currently on and just doing something I find joy in. Whether that is going to my friend's house, taking a nap, or going rollerskating. It is always a nice way to de-stress from the school I am doing. 

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Awkwardness, Social Anxiety, and Sonder

March 21, 2022

Humans, by nature, are social creatures. Humans are born to share ideas and emotions with each other. The very wellbeing and survival of a human being is significantly rooted in the social connections in one’s life. We even see it in our closest relatives, apes, who have their own family structures. So why, why is it that no matter how much we desire friendships, how much we want love, why is it so awkward to approach someone new? 

Human brains are naturally pessimistic. It’s very easy for the brain to consider the worst possible scenario, and when we approach someone new that’s exactly what we expect. We expect them to judge us, look at us suspiciously, or take advantage of us. 

It’s very much normal for the brain to generate these thoughts because it’s trying to protect us from being hurt. Our brains are always cautioned with new things. What’s great about our brains, though, is that they’re ours. Just like you can control the way  your hair looks, you can control how your brain reacts to people all with simple  knowledge, and it all takes one word: Sonder. Sonder is the realization that each  random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. So why is this important? Well it means that just like you were blast processing insecure thoughts before meeting that new person, they were doing the same. They too were worried about their smell. They too thought they had dressed too casual. The truth is, the #1 thing everybody has constantly on their mind is themselves. And it’s that fact that you can use to become a sociable person. 

Now this isn’t to say that everyone is a selfish egocentric person. All this means is that people are worried about sustaining themselves before even thinking of others. Let’s say you had to wear a really ugly sweater to school because all of your stylish clothes are dirty. Of course the first thought in your mind at school is how everybody is going to see how ugly your sweater is. Sure, someone may see it, but that someone is also too worried about how their hair looks to even think about making a judgement on your sweater. So next time you have a really awkward moment with someone, just know that by the time you get home they’ve already forgotten about it. They are busy thinking about their own awkward moments and mishaps. 

The truth is people are likely not thinking about your agenda or your insecurities, so really, they’re under your control! If people are constantly taking in only what's around them, then the world will see you for who you want to be. The judgements you place on yourself will be the judgements the world accepts.

The greatness of sonder is that you have all of the responsibility for who you are to yourself. It comes with realizing the anonymity of real life that potential for an enjoyable future can be seen. The world is a collection of over 7 billion unique, connected, and individual stories where it’s easy to get lost and feel small. Make yours stand out.

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Passion For Compassion

March 15, 2022

The Oxford dictionary defines compassion as, “sympathetic pity and concern for the suffering or misfortune of others.” This definition isn’t exactly on the positive side and makes compassion seem like it’s only meant for other people, when it’s important to have compassion for yourself and others. There are two different types of compassion: compassion for others and self-compassion. Both of these are equally important especially now. So join me on the passion for compassion journey as we explore compassion for others and yourself. 

Throw Compassion Around Like Confetti !!!!

Compassion is a combination of kindness and empathy, which is something everyone needs. However, sometimes it can be easy to forget. In this COVID-19 era, we quite literally have had a wall dividing us from those around us. It can make it harder to connect, express emotions, and help each other. Normally when a friend was having a bad day all you had to do was be their shoulder to cry on. Hug them and reassure them that everything was going to be okay. Sadly, we can't always do that anymore without the risk of COVID-19 coming into play. This can make it harder to be there for your friends and others. So that's where what I like to call COVID compassion comes into play. Here is how you can be there for your friends while keeping six feet apart:

  • It is the digital age so give them a call, shoot them a text, host a Zoom meeting. Humans are social by nature and that doesn't have to stop just because it feels like everything else has. 

  • Go on a social distance walk in nature.

  • Watch a movie together over Zoom.

  • Be a sympathetic ear. Just listen to what they have to say and offer support.

  • You can write letters to them. Letters are more personal and they do take some time to arrive, so it will make your friend's day when it does

Self Care Isn't Selfish!!!!

Here are some self-care gifts to give yourself:

  • Reach out to people you have not talked to in a long time. While writing this I sent a message to three friends I haven't talked to in a while, and honestly, it was the smartest decision I've ever made. It opened a door that otherwise wouldn't have been opened if I didn't send a message. We have been isolating ourselves for so long that we sometimes forget that we have the world at our fingertips. Because connecting with others is the greatest gift you can give yourself.

  • Plan a future trip you want to take when it is safe to do so. People are starting to get pandemic paranoia causing them to worry about when this will all end. Therefore hope is the most important gift you can give yourself. 

  • Limit social media usage. 

  • Pay attention to your feed. If it is more on the negative side, try and find more positive things to be looking at. It's one thing to be informed on current events. It is another to let the negativity of others dictate your life.

  • Create a playlist of music that you like and lifts your spirit. 

  • Trade in the COVID mask for a spa mask and give yourself a spa day. It is important to unwind no matter who you are - it never hurts to treat yourself. 

  • Laugh. People sometimes underestimate the power of laughter. Laughter is the best medicine. Even though it can't cure Coronavirus, it can cure the feelings of sadness and fear we all felt at some point during this pandemic.

Golden Nuggets:

  • Laughter is the best medicine. 

  • Treat yourself how you want others to treat you.

  • Keep it positive. 


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The Benefits of Yoga, Meditation and Relaxation for Teens

February 9, 2022

Despite the fact that yoga is becoming extremely popular among adults as a way to stay fit and stay healthy, most teenagers and young adults do not take it seriously. Personally, I was introduced to yoga because it was the only PE class available in my schedule junior year. I was very skeptical about it at the beginning, but with time yoga became an inevitable part of my morning routine, not only because of its physical benefits but psychological as well. Some of the scientifically proven benefits of yoga include better heart health, improved eating habits, reduced inflammation, and migraines. However, I think one of the biggest benefits of practicing yoga is the positive impact it has on our mental health. 

As a high school student, I do not necessarily experience big stresses in my life such as buying a house or losing a job. However, just like most teenagers, my life is full of constant small stressors  such as preparing for tests and AP exams, applying to colleges, managing school, and personal  life, performing well at sports, etc. Combined with the peer pressure and the pressure of deciding  our future, all these stressors on the developing teenage brain can lead to anxiety attacks or even  depression. This is when yoga comes into place. 

Practicing yoga 20-30 minutes a day gives me enough time to forget about whatever worries I have and allows me to focus on my body and mind. Relaxing yoga flows - Vinyasa Yoga - not only calms me down but helps me recharge and set the intention for the day. When I focus on not falling out of my pose or reaching my toes when stretching, I do not think about the upcoming tests or college essays I need to write, which helps me relieve my anxiety and decrease my stress levels. When I feel especially stressed, I like to do Yin Yoga, which is a slow meditative flow. If you are a beginner, it might be harder to hold some of the poses for a longer period of time, but this is why breathing is very important. 

Breathing is one of the most essential parts of yoga because it helps you remain focused and bring your attention back if it wanders. During the practice, it helps me remain balanced and deepens the stretch. I really enjoy doing 4-7-8 breathing (inhale for the count of four, hold the breath for seven and exhale for the count of eight) after my workout because it helps me calm down my body and my mind. By performing breathing exercises regularly, you will not only benefit psychically but also mentally, as breathing techniques are widely used to decrease stress levels and increase awareness of an individual's feelings and emotions. There is a wide variety of breathing exercises, so you can definitely find the one that would benefit you.

After a regular yoga practice or a workout, I like to spend a couple of minutes doing Yoga Nidra, which is a guided meditation. It is a great way to end the practice and set your final intention for the day. It helps me completely relax and recharge. Moreover, meditation is a great way to connect with your inner self, understand your worries and your feelings, which is also why yoga is used to fight anxiety and depression. It promotes self-love and encourages positive self-talk. You can also try doing Restorative Yoga to help relax your mind. Having a routine and knowing that your yoga mat is always there, waiting for you, can be very helpful in stressful situations and can even help fight depression. 

Lastly, doing yoga regularly promotes good sleep quality. Let's be honest, it's very difficult to find a high school student who is getting a good quality eight-hour sleep regularly. Practicing  yoga can definitely help with that. Whether you decide to do a quick 10-minute flow or a short meditation before going to bed, you will feel more relaxed and fall asleep easier. Therefore, yoga can be a great tool when fighting insomnia. And I think everyone would agree that a better sleep quality means better overall well-being, and more happiness, which we all desire so much.


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Tips to Stay Positive

January 24, 2022

Posted In: Positivity Attitude
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