Once-shy participant returns to program with confidence

Michelle Chalkey, michellec@mywebtimes.com, 815-673-6372

Marquette Academy graduate Andrea Schalk has been involved with the Illinois Valley Anti-Drug Coalition and attended the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute as a student for three years. This summer, she will participate as an institute staff member, leading discussion groups of about 15 to 20 teen participants.

"Since I'm now done with high school, I think it will be beneficial to the participants because I can give them life experience," Schalk said. "Yet, I'm not old enough where I would be out of reach to a common understanding and to bond as peers."

CGTI is a weeklong leadership training camp for students to learn how to implement change in their communities. This year's camp will run from Sunday, July 21, to Thursday, July 25, at Eastern Illinois University. Seventh-graders through high school seniors are eligible to attend.

"We are sending a large contingency of students this year," said IVADC President Brenden Donahue. "They are students that the coalition works with, but they all received scholarships from the CGTI. We are sending about 11 youth(s) from the area, and new this year, we are sending two adults with them as well as our youth leader (Schalk)."

Schalk said she learned a great deal of leadership and confidence when she first attended the teen institute at age 15.

"Being a naturally shy person, I surprised myself by being outgoing in large groups," Schalk said. "I carried this back home with me and was able to comfortably take leadership roles in my school and community without hesitation."

Schalk, along with other Marquette and Ottawa Township High School students, helped start Operation Snowflake, a program similar to CGTI's Operation Snowball. Two events in Ottawa per year sparked leadership and anti-bullying movements within middle school students.

Schalk's role as a co-facilitator at CGTI will include promoting discussion and group participation and developing relationships with the participants in order to guide them in their leadership journeys.

"I have so much affection and excitement for CGTI," Schalk said. "It is a way to unite young leaders from all walks of life and give them the leadership and prevention training that they need to impact and change their own communities."

Susan Bursztynsky, president and CEO of Easter Seals of La Salle and Bureau Counties, also will attend as one of the two adult mentors. Bursztynsky has been involved with the coalition for several years.

"I see the CGTI as a way to continue to mentor youth(s)," Bursztynsky said. "Local youth(s) who have gone to CGTI in the past and are involved with the coalition are doing some awesome things, including Operation Snowflake. As a mentor, I can help to provide some support to allow them to flourish even more as change-makers."

Bursztynsky hopes the teens going with the IVADC will come away from CGTI committed to mentoring others to lead healthy, drug- and alcohol-free lives.

"The steps that they take now can lead to a lifelong community involvement and can save a life."