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Georgia Teen Institute raises responsible youths
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Samantha Shiver has met her past self anew this summer.

For her, the experience offered at the Georgia Teen Institute has come full circle.

"The program is both amazing and empowering," said Shiver, a volunteer and former camper with the leadership program. "It changed my life as a teenager. I see myself in these students - they are all so eager to lead and ready to change the world."

Four hundred students and volunteers from across Georgia have convened on the Oxford College campus this week for Georgia Teen Institute. The national program offers middle and high school students training in leadership and substance abuse prevention and teaches them how to be high-functioning members of society.

Directors Jessica Andrews and Shannon Veronesi coordinate the 23-year-old program. Teams of teens were assembled in towns across the state. There are 42 teams at this session.

"This is the training ground for what we want them to do in their community when they leave," Andrews said.
A focus of the program is to help the students identify problems in their hometowns and then help to create a plan of action that they can successfully implement in their communities.

"We hope that when they leave, they follow through with the plan and spread the word about the program," Andrews said.

In order to teach the students how to do this, they participate in daily workshops on a variety of topics. Students choose the ones that are most interesting to them.

"Our workshops are on everything from government advocacy to community gardening," Andrews said. "We let them choose instead of prescribing classes to them so they get the most out of the program."

The program is serving more teens this year, thanks to grants through Georgia's Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities. This is the first year the program has benefitted from state-level funding.

"We got around 25 teams that came in right at the end," Andrews said. "We had to scramble a bit, but we are glad to have them."

In addition to teaching more students how to be resourceful citizens, the increased number of participants also means more volunteers like Shiver for the program in the future.

"I come back to show my appreciation," Shiver said. "I was able to be myself and accept who I am."

One of those students, Canton resident Kasey Clark, is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the program.

Clark, a rising high school senior who has a bleeding disorder, was sent to the program through funding provided by Hemophilia of Georgia, a nonprofit dedicated to providing for those who suffer from bleeding disorders.

"I was sent here to learn how to lead," he said. "Since I've been here, I've learned about community involvement, relationship building and how to make more mature decisions."