Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How My Life Changed at Summer Institute

It’s that time of year again…the birds are chirping, the sound of lawnmowers are buzzing in the morning air, and your bathing suit is yelling at you from the back of the drawer every time you order fries.  Sure, it’s Spring time, but it’s also time to register for Summer Institute!  

Shannon Flynn, myself and Dr. Mary Prince at Summer Institute 2008.
This is the 14th Annual Summer Institute hosted by the SC Campaign – and my 7th time attending.  The first time I attended SI (as those of us on the inside refer to it!), I was a state employee slowly making a move to the field of teen pregnancy prevention.  In fact, I was an HIV Health Educator moonlighting in adolescent sexual health.  SI was held at the SC Archives and History Building in Columbia – a far cry from the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center where it will be held this year.  When I arrived, I carried with me the heaviness of a young professional with dreams of changing the world but no one to support me on that journey.  When I got there, I found the typical conference fair – breakout sessions, key notes, and information booths.  The speakers were informative, which I expected, and I filled my conference bag with stacks of flyers, fact sheets, business cards, and any pen I could get my hands on.  However, what did surprise me was the number of young professionals present – who were laughing and enjoying themselves and their jobs.  They too had dreams of changing the world and it looked like they were living it.  I came back for the second day a little lighter in my step and more hopeful.  I listened with more intent to the speaker – who challenged me to think outside the box, take a chance on a young person who no one thought would make it, and stop making excuses.  I went back home and added the tagline to my email, “Stop complaining, start a revolution” which I stole from a favorite feminist.  It was what I yearned for; young people needed an advocate, and I was ready to be one.  

After my first Summer Institute, I dumped my bag of conference goodies on my desk and began to study them.  I was surprised and moved by the data and wanted more.  I signed up for the Friday Broadcast and visited the SC Campaign website periodically after that for information to help me with my work.  Without looking for it, I stumbled across a job posting one day – CDC Project Coordinator.  Long story short, I applied for and got the job.  However, my journey there included interviewing with Forrest Alton, Carol Singletary and Suzan Boyd.  Talk about an intimidating group.  BUT, I was a revolutionist now!  When Carol asked me what I wanted to do in 10 years, I confidently replied, ‘change the world.’  She didn’t laugh at me – and I knew then that I had found an agency that matched my same passion.  

So, my Summer Institute story was life changing.  Six and a half years later, and I’m still a SC Campaign employee planting the revolutionary seed – I hope to see it grow in both our partner communities and our staff who serve them.  I talk with pride about the hard work of the SC Campaign – and my contribution in that.  I’m not saying that your Summer Institute will be as revolutionary as mine, but if you are open to it, it will definitely change you.  You may have a few weeks before the pool opens, but don’t wait any longer to register for Summer Institute.  It’ll be Famously Hot here, so bring that bathing suit!

by Erin Johnson, Director of Capacity Building, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy