The Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute is a place where you can find a community while helping your community. You can start attending the summer camp in middle school. As a middle school participant you get to have fun while learning about substance use prevention and how to become a better leader in your community. That first year is a year like no other. Everything is new. It's like stepping to a whole new world with so many possibilities. It can feel weird at first, everyone cheering and dancing while you are just a shy middle schooler, trust me I know. That foreign experience is beneficial, especially at that age. Feeling safe to be your authentic self in an environment makes it easier to make friends and learn things. That first year for me I started to figure out who I was by discovering what I wanted to do. At the age of 12, your world is a lot smaller and time passes differently. In middle school making an action plan of what to do at school feels like a set plan for the future. At least that's how it felt for me. I saw the ability to do something that gave me a purpose.
Part of working on an action plan is making sure you are maintaining it year round. How you can make sure you are doing that is by going to Mid-Year. Mid-Year is a great place to reconnect with all your new friends from over the summer. It's also a great place to keep developing your leadership skills and action plan. You can see a future and you can set goals, but if you don’t put in the work nothing is going to change. As a middle school participant, you are the youngest group with so much to learn still. You are going to make mistakes; it's all a part of the journey of learning. Even though you are a part of the youngest group at camp you are a part of the group of leaders from your community. You are a leader and learning makes a huge difference. You have the courage to go to an unknown place and learn about preventing substance use and creating an all inclusive environment.
Middle school comes to an end, and once you graduate from eighth grade you can become a high school participant. As a high school participant, you get to make more friends. You still get to enjoy workshops and general sessions. I would say the biggest difference is Discussion Groups. Discussion Groups in middle school are with people closer to your age and you have in common that you are all still new to TI. As a high school participant you are thrown into a group with people who have more experience being a leader in their communities. The great part about that is you get to learn from your peers not just about TI and being a leader, but also about what to expect in high school. The summer after eighth grade for me was a chance to prepare myself for starting my freshman year.
If I had to pick one year as a participant that I enjoyed the most, it would have to be my fourth year at CGTI. After going through middle school and my first year of high school, I felt at home when going back. When you get to know the people and get into the groove of how the days go both at Mid-Years and over the summer, you have more time to have fun. After three years of learning and growing out of the awkwardness, you get to enjoy the summer even more than before. What I learned is that you don’t feel weird participating in workshops and taking healthy risks once you become more and more conformable. Not only that but you can take even more leadership roles in your community. Age does equal more responsibilities. After being a high school participant, you can become a PALS member. A PALS member is a Participant with Advanced Leadership Skills. It is like training for being on Youth Staff. It's a lot more learning and practicing having a larger role in the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute. You still do action planning and watch the general sessions. Again the biggest difference is Discussion Groups. In PALS, you have PALS meetings where you learn things. You still process things from the workshops throughout the day, but the activities are different. Taking on being a PALS member is like saying you're ready to take a larger step in your leadership journey - both in your community and in CGTI. PALS only happens in the summer, meaning you could do PALS and still be a high school participant in the winter.
Just like PALS, Youth Staff only happens in the summer. For PALS you can do that the summer after your junior year. Youth Staff you do once you have done PALS and complete high school. Obviously in the past there have been exceptions and the circumstances of the world affected how TI did things in 2020 and 2021. Now we are back and better than ever. Youth Staff was such a special experience for me I will never forget. It was a long journey to get to be on Youth Staff and one worth taking. My world is a lot bigger than what it was in middle school. I had the typical moments of doubt about whether or not staff was for me. The great thing about Youth Staff is you get to learn, practice and have larger roles. You are there for staff trainings. You get to co-facilitate Discussion Groups and action planning. You have more responsibilities and with that comes the freedom of getting to learn how you fit in with the staff group. You are no longer working with your school peers, you are working with people who taught you. You get to spend time learning more from them, but also getting to know them. You never stop making friends at CGTI and you never stop growing into a better leader.
Home is where the heart is, home is where your chosen family is. A home is a safe place where you are allowed to grow. Where you can leave and come back, even if it's been years, and you are welcomed in with open arms. Home is where unconditional love and acceptance are. Home is an environment where you can learn how to be a better member of your community. Home is the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute. That is the biggest thing I learned throughout the years because after the time spent growing through CGTI, it really becomes your home. It becomes your family where you get to pass on traditions and wisdom to new members. Where you still get to learn from those who have been around longer than you. That's what being on staff truly is: you are a part of a family and you have an important role to play. Being on Volunteer Staff is just one step towards even more. I am just at the point of being on Volunteer Staff and one day I may be on the Leadership Team. Growth in CGTI truly never stops. The love for the people and missions of IABH, Snowball, Focus, and CGTI keeps growing. You can start at any point and be welcomed in with open arms. You could have no experience or a lot of experience in Snowball and CGTI regardless you are welcomed in with open arms. The journey to staff doesn’t just take one path. I told my journey based on what I experienced. Every single member of staff experienced a different journey and so will you.