Category Archives: Leadership

The End of an Era: GUIDE Says Goodbye to Ari Russell

Today marks the end of an era in Gwinnett County, in Georgia and in the field of prevention. One of the pioneers of the prevention field and biggest difference-makers in our community, Ari Russell, retires today after 28 years and 3 months of service as the Executive Director of GUIDE.

RUS_9768GUIDE was formed as a joint effort between the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners and the Gwinnett County Board of Education. They wanted to have a comprehensive, coordinated and proactive approach to reducing and preventing substance use and abuse. A steering committee of prominent Gwinnett leaders developed a preliminary plan and secured funding to hire an Executive Director. Ari Russell was hired in July of 1986 and has been at the helm of this agency ever since.

Under Ari’s leadership GUIDE has had many significant accomplishments, including:

  • Conducting a prevention needs assessment in 1986 that lead to recommendations to the Gwinnett County Board of Education that were subsequently adopted; including the adoption of K-12 drug prevention curriculum, providing staff development about prevention issues, conducting drug use surveys on a regular basis, and adopting a no-smoking policy that included faculty and staff;
  • Working with the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department to develop the ADVANCE program, a substance abuse and violence prevention curriculum that was conducted by deputies in all fifth grade classes in Gwinnett;
  • Overseeing all state-funded prevention services in Gwinnett, Rockdale and Newton Counties for five years, helping to build the infrastructure in Rockdale and Newton Counties until the Family Connection Collaboratives were able to take on the responsibilities;
  • Partnering with Public Health to secure a CDC tobacco prevention grant that led to the formation of Smoke Free Gwinnett and, eventually, the adoption of clean indoor air ordinances in three Gwinnett cities, followed by the County;
  • Establishing the Gwinnett Alliance With Youth that formed Community Cluster Care Teams in every school cluster, increased public awareness about risk and protective factors and developmental assets and instituted the “Champions” project;
  • Originating the Georgia Teen Institute in 1989. This program has operated annually since then with over 12,000 youth having participated in the program;
  • Developing Youth Volunteer Centers in 1998. The first was located at Collins Hill High School, and supported by funding from United Way. The initiative evolved into the Youth Leadership & Action program and the 3-Year Youth Action Team Empowerment Model. Since 1998, over fifty Youth Action Teams have been established, providing youth leadership and service opportunities for thousands of middle and high school students in Gwinnett County.
  • Establishing the GUIDE Youth Advisory Board and College Advisory Board.

RUS_9723 (1)Ari was one of the founders of the National Association of Prevention Professionals and Advocates, a membership organization that advocated on a national level for professionalism in the field and adoption of research-based strategies and of the Prevention Credentialing Consortium of Georgia, bringing a professional certification to prevention specialists in Georgia. In 2007, Ari received the first Ray Avant Excellence in Prevention Award from the Georgia Office of Prevention Services and Programs for her contributions to the field, and in 2011 she was the Georgia nominee for IC/RC Prevention Professional of the Year. More recently, Ari was honored with the Extraordinary Contribution to Prevention Award from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and the Barbara King Community Hero Award from the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services.

The number of lives impacted through the work GUIDE has accomplished in the last 28 years are immeasurable, and Ari has been the catalyst for the change that has occurred in Gwinnett and across Georgia. Never one to lead from behind her desk, Ari has not only been the brains and creativity behind many innovative, cutting-edge and meaningful programs and projects, she was often the one implementing the programs, too. Over the years, Ari’s job – in addition to the day-to-day work of being an Executive Director – has included leading Arts and Crafts at the Georgia Teen Institute, teaching hundreds of workshops (and making the thousands of copies that go with them) and feeding hundreds of youth and adults at various training events and Teen Institutes. A mentor, friend and role model for other GUIDE Staff and many others across the state, Ari’s leadership has influenced many prevention professionals and partners and is felt throughout our field and our state. 


Earlier this week, as we closed our final staff meeting together, we said to Ari, “This is all because of you.” Though she’s always collaborated, found partners and sought funding to see visions become realities and had a team of colleagues at her side, the state of prevention in Gwinnett wouldn’t be where it is without Ari. Though she’s been fortunate enough to work with incredible leaders across the state, region and country,  prevention in Georgia would look very different if it had not had Ari. Though there are countless partners in the work GUIDE does that makes us successful every day, the work GUIDE has accomplished wouldn’t be the same without Ari.

Today is the end of an era. It won’t be easy for many of us. Change of this magnitude is frightening, and we know that no one can fill Ari’s big shoes. Ari is a legend, a pioneer, a visionary, a change maker. Her influence will be felt far and wide for many years to come. And Ari can leave knowing that her life, her work and her leadership made a difference.

If you would like to join us as we celebrate Ari and our next Executive Director, Jessica Andrews-Wilson, please join us on November 14 for our “Pass the Torch” celebration. For details on this event and to RSVP, click here

Thank you, Ari, for 28 years of service to Gwinnett County, Georgia and the prevention field. You will be missed!


Team Building Activity: Straw Challenge

Straw Challenge 

IMG_1023This activity is a super simple and inexpensive way to get your group working as a cohesive team!

Time Needed: 10-15 minutes

Group Size: Any

Materials: Straws for each person in the group (ones that are NOT bendy work best)


RUS_7117 (1)Give each person a straw, have them form a circle, and then hold their straw against the pointer finger of their right hand.

Have them cross their left arm across their right arm and press the tip of their pointer finger on their left hand against the end of their neighbor on the rights’ straw. This should allow the tip of each of their pointers to be in contact with a straw. No other part of any person’s hand, other than their pointer fingers, may touch the straws from this point on.

Now have the group make a series of movements to see how few times they will drop the straws. Have the group move in a circle to their left until they are back in their original position again. Afterward, have the group move 5-15 feet (depending on how much space you have) in a direction from where they are standing, and then return to their original location.

RUS_7114If at any point someone drops a straw, the entire group must stop and allow the person who dropped the straw time to pick it up and get into position again.

There is no elimination for dropping a straw. 

Debrief Questions:

  • How did your neighbor’s movement affect yours?
  • Were you affected by movement across the circle?
  • In our group how do we affect each other?
  • What can each of us do to think about how our activities affect others, especially as leaders?

We encourage you to complete this activity with the youth you serve, staff you work with, or both! If you do, please make sure to let us know how it goes!

Team Building Activity: Balloon Tower

Balloon Tower

RUS_2777Are you looking for a fun and engaging team building activity to do with your group? Look no further than Balloon Tower! We love to do this activity to encourage teamwork and discuss conquering challenges. We would love to hear how you use it, too!

Objective: Use a bag of balloons and roll of masking tape to build the tallest freestanding tower possible in the time allotted.

Time Needed:  20-30 minutes

Group Size:  Any, split into teams of 4-6 people

Materials (per team):

  • 1 bag of balloons
  • 1 roll of masking tape

RUS_2797Directions:  If your group is larger than 6, split into smaller teams.  Give each team a bag of balloons and a roll of tape.  Challenge the teams to make the tallest freestanding tower they can using only the balloons and tape. 

Allow four minutes of brainstorming and planning. When you say “Go!” the tower building can begin. 

Let the teams build for 10 minutes, giving time announcements at five minutes, two minutes and one minute remaining. At the end, whichever team has the tallest freestanding tower is the winner. 

Congratulate all teams for creating such tall towers.


You can make it more difficult by allowing the teams to brainstorm and plan for four minutes and then not allowing them to talk while they are building.


Debrief Questions:

  1. What worked for your group? What didn’t? How did you know?
  2. What was challenging? How did you deal with those challenges?
  3. How do you feel about your finished tower?
  4. How is this activity like working on your project with your team?

Custom + Quality = GUIDE Training Events

With more than 25 years of experience coordinating, planning and implementing training across the state, GUIDE is your source for a custom, quality event! GUIDE specializes in substance abuse prevention, youth development and leadership for both youth and adults.

IMG_3752No matter your group – youth or adults, large or small, non-profit or corporate – we are willing to work with you to plan and implement a custom event in your community… or anywhere you desire! Put our experience to work for your school, community or company by contacting us to be a part of planning a new, or improving on a pre-existing, program or conference.  Whether it is planning and taking care of all the small details, or simply providing a professional workshop session, GUIDE staff will work to fit your goals and needs, whatever they may be.  We will also make it a priority to work with the budget available to you.

August is always a busy month of custom training events for GUIDE with the start of programming and the new school year. We’ve already had several trainings throughout the state this month and still have more to come before September.

IMG_2605On August 11, GUIDE staff conducted a teen summit with 60 students at the Douglas County Performance Learning Center. At the beginning of the summit, participants were greeted with door prizes and energizers to get them ready for the day. Afterward, they took part in engaging, hands-on workshops related to leadership and goal setting. Through partner and group discussion, creative projects, and the use of GUIDE’s Caboodle Cards, these workshops provided resources and tools necessary to be successful during the school year and beyond. The day ended with a large group session of icebreakers and energizers. During this time, participants had the opportunity to learn about each other and how to work better as a group.

IMG_2774Later that week, GUIDE staff facilitated three workshops with 65 students at the Turner County Freshmen Orientation. Each year, Turner County Freshmen have the opportunity to see and learn about their school prior to the start of the year, and we were grateful to be a part of this fantastic event! The workshops conducted included themes of respect, staying engaged while in school, and time-management. Although the workshops were only 30 minutes in length, the GUIDE facilitators did an exceptional job leading meaningful conversation, engaging participants in activities, and sharing expertise about what to expect in high school.

This month, GUIDE also partnered with the Gwinnett County Coalition’s program, the Gwinnett Neighborhood Leadership Institute (GNLI) and Gwinnett SToPP. Each year, these organizations request GUIDE to facilitate teambuilding to start things off for their newest members during their annual kick-off retreat. New members are asked to work together all day Saturday and Sunday of the retreat to learn about their programs, receive training related to creating change in the community, and learn how to work better as a team. GUIDE staff are instrumental in leading new members through these developments and really help to get things moving right at the beginning of the retreat.

GUIDE staff will also conduct two workshops for the Atlanta Salvation Army’s Boys and Girls Club. The workshops will tackle topics related to Project-Based Learning and STEM in afterschool programming. During the Project-Based Learning workshop, participants will gain an understanding of the key characteristics of project-based learning and how it differs from other models and approaches; learn the principles for designing, assessing and managing project-based learning projects; and gain tools and resources for implementing project-based learning in youth development programs. STEM participants will come to understand the importance of implementing STEM in afterschool, participate in sample activities and facilitation, and review how scientific inquiry relates to STEM.

If you’re interested in custom events like the above, or something totally different, please don’t hesitate to contact our Director of Training and Capacity Building, Mary Kate Chapman ( We strive to provide a quality training every time and will work with you to customize the best event for your budget or link you with someone who can.

7 Ways to Effectively Engage Youth Voice in Programming

Youth Voice is an essential piece of any organization that works with youth, either directly or indirectly.

In order to effectively engage Youth Voice in programming, take the following into consideration:

  1. Honor, ask for and engage youth wisdom.
  2. Provide ample opportunities for young people and adults to share control and decision making on multiple levels.
  3. Understand that Youth Voice is a way of operating, an organizational culture and philosophy that goes beyond one “leadership program offering.”
  4. Go beyond “just listening” and build real action around Youth Voice.
  5. Identify opportunities for voice and choice within each daily activity, across sessions, throughout programs and organization-wide.
  6. Create space, commit resources, provide support and promote opportunities for Youth Voice.
  7. Understand the positive outcomes of partnership for young people, adults, organizations and communities.

Squaready20140811141906The GUIDE, Inc. Youth Advisory Board (YAB) utilizes Youth Voice in multiple ways. Before the official start of the school year in August, a group of YAB members attended Georgia Teen Institute (GTI), planned a community project related to prevention and utilized the Strategic Prevention Framework. During this time, YAB members shared their knowledge of issues in the community, and their project was based on this wisdom and expertise. While they were given community statistics and an action plan as resources, the development of the project was directly related to the needs they wanted to see addressed in the community.

In the upcoming school year, YAB will work toward capacity building, utilizing resources available and implementing this plan in Gwinnett County. They will also have the opportunity to work with GUIDE staff to provide feedback regarding the organization’s strategic planning goals as well as other organizational projects. This feedback ensures that youth in our community are heard and have the chance to share their opinion with stakeholders and decision makers.

IMG_4858Youth Voice is also a key piece of YAB and GUIDE’s Board of Directors meetings. Executive members work with GUIDE staff to develop agendas and activities and even lead their YAB meetings, too. In the upcoming year, YAB will also attend GUIDE Board of Directors meetings where they will create and report out information related to the work they’re accomplishing in and around the community. By including youth in these key pieces, they have a direct say in what they want and need to accomplish, as well as the information they wish to share with the organization’s Board of Directors.

During YAB meetings, one way we encourage youth to think a little deeper and share those thoughts with us is by utilizing a tool called WIBYT: Write It Before You Talk. When brainstorming or thinking deeply about a topic or pondering a specific question, allow participants a set time limit to write down anything related to the topic or question you presented.  The only rules are that the person must write for the entire time, and they cannot verbalize their thoughts with those around them until instructed to do so. After the time limit is up, have participants share the ideas they jotted down. This activity allows time for everyone to identify their own thoughts or answers before sharing out with the large group. This will effectively engage more youth, and the group participation will increase, too. For more tools and tricks on how to engage youth, check out speaker, educator and author Michael Brandwein.

Squaready20140811142355It’s important to incorporate Youth Voice in several areas throughout the organization and to make sure it isn’t one small happening, but is interwoven throughout the organizational structure. Realize that this is a partnership and show them respect. Listen to their ideas. Be intentional about involving them in multiple aspects of your organization. Above all, remember that Youth Voice takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight.

We are excited to work with each YAB member this year, to hear their voice, and to make a positive difference in our community as a result!

For more information and resources related to Youth Voice, check out University of Minnesota’s Quality Matters Toolkit: Voice and Engagement.

Team Building Activity: The Star

The Star 

This is a quick and easy team building activity that you can accomplish with any group, made up of youth or adults. We recently used this activity with our 2014 Georgia Teen Institute Staff during Staff Development Weekend and are so excited to share it with you!

20140315_111316Time Needed: 15 – 20 minutes

Group Size: Any, split into teams of 12-15

Materials: A very long rope or ball of yarn (40-50 feet) tied to itself to form a circle


Star 1Ask everyone in the group to grab the rope and get into a circle.

Inform everyone that they cannot let go of the rope or trade places with others, but they can slide their hands along the rope.

The goal is to get the whole group to create a five pointed star with the rope (the kind with the crisscrosses in the middle).

Once they think the task is complete, ask them to slowly lower the star to the ground and step back to admire their work.

Debrief Questions:

  • Was your team successful? If so, how?
  • What did your planning process look like?
  • Did anyone emerge as a leader? What actions or characteristics made them a leader?
  • What roles did others play during the activity?
  • In what ways does this activity relate to the real world?

Star 3If you use this team building activity with your group, let us know how it goes. If you already do this activity and know of fun or meaningful variances, we would love to know about that, too. Please reach out and keep connected!

GUIDE 2013-2014 Youth Advisory Board: Where They’re Headed

IMG_4921GUIDE is proud to recognize ten seniors from our Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and their accomplishments. The YAB is comprised of youth from across Gwinnett County that commit to making a difference in their community. YAB members develop and practice key leadership skills such as public speaking, group management, networking, decision-making, planning, organization, and time management. Each of our YAB members has shown dedication to not only GUIDE, but also to their schools and communities. Because of their impressive leadership skills, every YAB member was involved in a variety of extracurricular activities such as Student Government Association, National Honor Society, Gwinnett Student Leadership Team, etc. Several YAB members also held part time jobs at businesses such as restaurants and insurance companies.

Each senior had an impressive resume, and universities across the country reached out to them. Throughout the fall and spring, they were busy applying for numerous scholarships and universities. GUIDE is honored to announce that all ten of our seniors were accepted to the university or college of their choice and several were selected for outstanding scholarships!

IMG_4862We are extremely proud of two YAB members for receiving the prestigious honor of being selected as 2014 Gates Millennium Scholars. The Gates Millennium Scholars Program selects 1,000 talented students each year to receive a good-through-graduation scholarship to use at any college or university of their choice. This scholarship will provide a full scholarship to the recipient for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Josselyn Garcia, YAB President, and Micheline Amisi, YAB Vice-President, were both selected as Gates Scholars. Josselyn, a future Eagle, will be attending Emory University in Atlanta this fall. A soon-to-be Tar Heel, Micheline will be attending The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Moving to Rhode Island, Odemi Pessu will be attending Brown University, becoming a Brown Bear, with a full academic scholarship. Akua Obeng-Akrofi, YAB Secretary, received a track scholarship and will be moving to New York City and attending Columbia University as a Lion. Maya Carter will become a Pirate and attend Hampton University in Virginia on an academic scholarship.

Several YAB members decided to stay in Georgia to continue their education. A future Bulldog, Joy Choi will be attending the University of Georgia in Athens. Rachel Topper will be attending Georgia College in Milledgeville where she will become a Bobcat. Marilyn Carias, Angela Luu and Vincent Morales are all soon to be Panthers at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

IMG_4422GUIDE appreciates the participation and service from each senior throughout their time on YAB. Each individual helped make a difference to youth and adults in Gwinnett County. Every YAB member has grown in their leadership potential through their YAB experience, and now they are equipped to share those skills at universities across the country. As the new school year quickly approaches, we wish all of these new college freshmen good luck and look forward to hearing about their college successes and how they go on to change the world.