Tennessee Teen Institute underway at UTM

The Tennessee Teen Institute is an annual week-long prevention and leadership camp for teens age 13 to 18 from across Tennessee, and for the eighth year, it is being held on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin.

The 532 teens from across the state of Tennessee will be on campus June 23-28 taking part in programs, activities, fellowship and fun.

Kristi Townes, the director of the Tennessee Teen Institute (TTI) and a UT Martin alumna, said students come to the camp in groups from their hometowns or after-school programs.

“They come with one adult and six students,” she said. “While they’re here, they write an action plan to take back home to do some kind of prevention, whether it’s suicide prevention, risky driving prevention or alcohol and drug prevention.

“They write a plan to take back home to do in their own community or school.”

The Tennessee Teen Institute began in 1986, and similar programs can be found in states across the U.S. The Illinois program is celebrating its 50th year.

The program is peer-led, with trained youth leaders who are in college or in high school leading the camp.

“We will have keynote speakers from throughout the nation,” Townes said. “We’ll also have breakout sessions on every topic, from safe driving to bullying to making good life choices, from a vaping workshop to a suicide prevention workshop.

“We have a whole day on Wednesday dedicated to safe driving issues. Our keynote and activities surround safe driving because the Tennessee Highway Safety Office sponsors that day.”

At the end of the day, the campers can unwind and have fun with their fellow participants.

“They have all the fun, campy stuff at night,” Townes said. “We have a talent show and scavenger hunt – things like that.”

Townes, a 1991 UTM graduate in public relations, has been with the TTI program for 20 years, and she said there were once three TTI camps across the state: one in West Tennessee, one in Middle Tennessee and one in East Tennessee. The state combined the three into one big event in 2010.

“We did three years at Austin Peay, three years at Tennessee Tech and we’ve been here ever since,” she said. “UT Martin is big enough to hold us, and we don’t have to walk far from the dorms to where we eat and where we do everything. The facilities here are great, and we’ve gotten positive feedback on that from the people who come here.”

More information about the Tennessee Teen Institute – including camper and staff applications – can be found at its website at tnteeninstitute.net and through its page on Facebook.

PHOTO: Peer leader Isabella Hottes of Carroll County speaks during a session of the 2024 Tennessee Teen Institute held June 23-28 on the campus of UT Martin. Peer leaders standing with her are Megan Burney (left) of Obion County and Rena’s Alanazi of Weakley County.

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