Teenagers attend Tennessee Teen Institute at UT Martin

MARTIN, Tenn. — All is quiet at the University of Tennessee at Martin this week, until you go inside the University Center.

“There’s a gamut of things this week as roughly 500 kids from across the state come together to learn how to live safer lives,” said Barry Cooper, executive director of Jackson Area Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. 

The kids, ages 14 to 18, are gathered for the Tennessee Teen Institute.

“When I came, I had a blast — the best week of my life,” Charlee Ownby, a peer leader liaison, said. 

While these kids do have a lot of fun at the camp, they also sit down and learn things to take back home with them.

“Kids will hear motivational speakers from across the state, and the things they’ll hear will be things about anti-bullying, anti-tobacco use, anti-drug and alcohol, but they’ll also be taking away some of the leadership skills they’ll gain this week,” Cooper said.

Many kids keep coming back year after year.

“I heard a whole bunch of stuff, a lot of stories, but the biggest thing I learned was that I had a support system across the state,” Ownby said.

And organizers hope they’ll put it to good use.

“Here they learn their voice, they practice their voice, they find their mission,” said Mary Harding, coordinator of coordinated school health at Lenoir City Schools. “Then once you’ve practiced that in a safe environment, then you feel a lot more confident you can do that in your school where it’s not so sometimes safe and comfortable.”

The course continues through Friday.

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