Groton on the Inside: Students learn leadership and kindness at NY Teen Institute


At the Heart of NY Teen Institute Leadership Conference this past November, approximately 200 students from Central and Southern Tier New York were in attendance. Among them, were four Groton High School students who received scholarships to attend: Kiersten Buckley, Brett Clore, Emmalee Garrow, and Jasmine Garrow.

Accompanied by their advisor and GCS social worker, Trina Luttinger, the four enjoyed working with a diverse group of youth to discover their own leadership styles and find ways to promote healthy attitudes and choices among their peers.

Teen Institute (TI) is held to promote teen resilience and empower them with the ability to choose healthy lifestyles through helping them to develop their emotional intelligence and understanding of leadership, as well as teaching them the skills and confidence they need to lead themselves and their peers to addiction-free lives. They were also taught how to advocate for positive change, including when to ask adults for help to avoid bigger problems.
At the Groton Board of Education meeting on Monday, Jan. 28, Luttinger, Buckley, Clore, and Jasmine Garrow were present to share their experiences at the conference, and what they have done since then. Emmalee Garrow was unable to attend the presentation.

After hearing a general overview from Luttinger, each student took part in presenting a very detailed account of what took place during their four-day participation in TI. They shared the trepidation some felt going in, everything in between, and the positive, life-changing attitudes and motivation each left with.

Clore spoke about their long days (8 a.m. to 10 p.m.) and the establishment of “family groups” that included other teens who transitioned from being strangers on day one to becoming life-long friends by day four.

He also shared a basic outline of how the days were structured; breakfast, a morning sharing time, lunch, large group experiences in the afternoons and evenings, and dinner in between.

Some of the experiences Clore mentioned were “setting up a tent in crisis conditions such as cold, dark, and fog,” a mountain climbing exercise with blindfolded leaders, meditative painting, values workshops, and action planning.

Garrow gave a very personal and moving testimony about the things she learned about herself and how she was inspired by the experiences of others she encountered. She came away from the conference with some very clear goals for herself and shared her desire to help initiate some type of safe prom event for Groton High School.

Buckley said, “I felt very accepted there,” and talked about some of the things they were able to do for one another that contributed to what she termed “an atmosphere that is welcoming.”

Warm Fuzzies
Around her neck, Buckley had a length of yarn that had what resembled a pom-pom hanging from the center. She said it was called a “warm fuzzy,” and people would exchange the pieces of yarn from the center with one another as an act of kindness.

She explained several other things they did to promote kindness toward others. They would leave notes with compliments or positive observations they may have made about another person in special mailboxes that were created for that purpose or making up songs to encourage someone else.

In order to raise Groton pride and promote non-judgmental, kind, and positive attitudes toward others, these four students initiated a “Giving the Gift of Kindness” event before the Christmas break in December.

“A table where people wrote kind notes to their friends,” Buckley explained what the gifts of kindness were. “We delivered the notes to their homerooms the next morning to spread kindness. We also had a wheel to spin to answer questions about generosity, and we gave a prize to everyone who participated in the event.”

Luttinger explained that none of the motivational speakers who would normally have been at the conference were able to make the trip because it happened to fall during a time of extremely inclement weather. Because of that, the students have been invited to a special event to hear their messages in Sydney, New York on Monday, March 4.

All in all, it seems clear that TI was very inspiring for these young people to be a part of. If you know any of these students or happen to encounter them along your path, do ask them to share more with you – I know they would love to do that!

Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, or 607-227-4922.


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