Washington County Teen Institute Set in Motion

Photo and Text by Ahni Georgerian, Marietta High School

Stress, mental illness, substance abuse, and societal stigma are all issues that are rampant in Washington County’s teenage population. This week, seven students met at the BB2C Epicenter to attempt to combat these issues. They hope to start the county-wide organization: WCTI (The Washington County Teen Institute).  The group is planning to run in collaboration with all seven highschools, to combat specific issues in their schools head on.

Their journey first began with the week-long Ohio Teen Institute Camp held at Heidelberg University where the original six students, personally selected by school faculty,  learned skills in communication, leadership, and community awareness. They were inspired to bring these skills home and start work in their own schools and the Washington County Teen Institute began.

This week’s three day, informational camp taught the seven students valuable skills and prepared them to face their communities' issues head on. Multiple activities, led by qualified and passionate volunteers helped guide the students through tough subjects such as substance abuse, suicidal prevention, and mental illness. 

The passion driving these students is unique to their own personal understanding of mental illness and substance abuse. Gretchen Lankford, a junior from Marietta Highschool, explained that in her own life she has faced these issues and, grateful for the support she received from others, she now wishes to pay it forward toward others facing the same problems. Kaity Stewart, an upcoming sophomore from Belpre High School, expressed that she sees areas of neglect in her own community and feels driven to support those struggling.

The organization, strongly built on teen leadership and responsibility, is to be made up of students passionately involved in their communities’ well-being. When asked how they believe teens can uniquely combat issues affecting their schools, the students were all unanimous in their thinking. Maria Pfaff, a senior from Marietta High School summarized the common idea in her statement that, “As a teenager/student, I feel that others my age are more apt to listen to me. For as long as I can remember, adults have been telling kids what they should and should not do. Eventually students become bored and stop listening to adults. If they hear the information from someone their own age, they may be more willing to listen.” 

This idea is to be put to the test as leaders of the WCTI reach out to students in their own schools, attempting to steer students away from destructive decision-making and negative stigmas revolving around mental illness. These seven individuals plan to make big changes in their schools and communities. Although there are many ways to make a positive impact on peers, the students plan to lead by example, making leadership and character important traits they must all embody. 

The students in their own words expressed their desire to lead and described traits that they personally felt a leader should express. Kaity spoke on confidence, respect, and communication skills while Gretchen highlighted passion and open-mindedness. Although they may have different beliefs on what qualifies a leader, together they embody the responsibility and drive to be good role models to those in their schools and county. 

Hopes of community involvement, positive change, and improvement in our county’s teenagers’ mental and physical well-being burn bright in the minds of these determined students. 

The Washington County Teen Institutes members are working hard toward achieving these dreams and as their numbers grow and infiltrate their individual schools, they are sure to make a great impact on our County. Best of luck to these passionate students, be sure to follow their journey and successes on our Facebook Page!

For more details: Marietta Times article.