Unity at CYT NLC 2015

Special thank you to CYT Founder, Paul Russell, for the following blog post, which reflects on the recent CYT National Leadership Conference in Lafayette, LA.

CYT Founders, Paul & Sheryl Russell enjoying the southern hospitality at the 2015 CYT NLC.

CYT Founders, Paul & Sheryl Russell enjoying the southern hospitality at the 2015 CYT NLC.

Last week, CYT Affiliates from around the country came together for the National Leadership Conference (NLC). CYT is blessed to have some of the most outstanding leaders making a difference in the lives of over 18,000 young people every year. CYT Lafayette hosted the 2015 CYT NLC, and provided all the gracious southern hospitality one would expect. According to Tonja Rainey, the Artistic Director at CYT Baton Rouge, “This was the best Leadership Conference that I’ve ever been too.”

The 2015 CYT theme focuses on Unity. The entire event encouraged our leaders to join together, unified as CYT leadership. Check out the daily synopses below to find out just how that was accomplished at this year’s NLC:

Friday 1/23/2015

Pastor and CYT Inc. Board Member, Tom Kirkendall, kicked off the event with a message for ourleaders to Equip, Empower, Encourage and Encounter. He also introduced the 2015 CYT Theme of Unity, inspired by Romans 15: 5-7: 
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
Next, Paul Russell gave the affiliates a new way to remember the CYT core values as well as to pray for all the CYTs across the country every time we see a penny.
CYT leadership of all generations! #NLC2015

CYT leadership of all generations! #NLC2015

Then, there was time for Affiliates to meet with other CYT leaders and share ideas, problems and highlights. The leaders enjoyed great times of prayer, laughter and heartache as we encouraged each other in our Mission.
Dinner was held at Chris’ Poboys and everyone got their fill of fried catfish, fried shrimp, fried okra, or fried chicken. It didn’t matter what you ordered, it came out fried! A great time of sharing and fellowship was had by all!
Saturday 1/24/2015
Saturday morning began with a workshop on suicide prevention from Dr. Theresa A. Wozencraft, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Psychology at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. After that somber, yet important and educational, session we were ready for some fun.
Keith Washington from the CYT Inc. Board explained the finances and how Affiliates’ fees were allocated and spent. Yes, even CYT Inc. has to raise money to exist.
Renee Kaufman (Creative Director, CYT Inc.) got everyone pumped up on the new products featured in the CYT Online Store. Between Renee and Heather LaForge (Director of Operations, CYT Inc.), we now all know everything there is to know about copyrights, use of logos, trademarks and how each affiliate can make more money by supporting the CYT Store.
Becca Wilds from CYT Indy did an outstanding workshop on HR. That’s right – HR! Go figure. How can anyone make HR interesting? Becca has a gift! She had the entire hall laughing out loud and applauding with wonderful information on Human Resources. No kidding – she received a standing ovation! We all want to grow up someday and be Becca!
CYT Lafayette hosted a wonderful catered lunch with pork sandwiches and the best bread pudding on the planet. Honestly! With all the sweet tea, sweet bread, sweet beignets, and sweet people, it’s almost too much to take!
Travis Russell, Director of Communications at CYT Inc. at the NLC 2015.

Travis Russell, Director of Communications at CYT Inc. at the NLC 2015.

Travis Russell (Director of Communications, CYT Inc.) gave an update on the new CYT software that is coming out this summer and introduced a new marketing strategy to get lots of new email contacts. SMILE: it’s a photo booth!
Allison Mayberry from CYT Fredericksburg was full of fresh and new ideas on how to use social media and community involvement to create buzz about CYT. This lady knows how to get the CYT name out there and knows how to build partnerships with local business.
Allison rocks and she does it on a CYT budget!
One of the highlights was an acting workshop given by Tyler Hutchinson of CYT Indy. He had the entire room engaged with what it means to be an actor. He pulled people from the audience to illustrate his points. Our students are lucky to work with such fine Artistic Directors as Tyler. He’s got the heart, and enthusiasm and the attitude to change the world. (Note: Tyler will be leading many of the student events at the 2015 EXPO!)
Sheryl Russell (CFO, CYT Inc.) ended the days session with a challenge to, “LEAD with DILIGENCE, ATTITUDE, ENCOURAGEMENT, and LOVE.”  It’s apparent that God is doing mighty work throughout CYT via our awesome leadership all over the U.S.A.
Gerald and Patti Broussard and Dana Bekurs (of CYT Lafayette), made Saturday night especially memorable by renting out a Footloose-eque Dance Hall for the CYT leaders to enjoy.
All they wanted to do was dance. #NLC2015. Image courtesy of Katrina DeRoche.

All they wanted to do was dance. #NLC2015. Image & caption courtesy of Katrina DeRoche.

Everyone was treated to authentic Cajun food, (Boudin sausages, red beans and rice, and fried hush puppies) and live Zydeco music. Everyone danced the night away, even learning the Louisiana two step.
CYT leaders, Tanya Tafolla & Katrina DeRoche get musical at the 2015 NLC.

CYT leaders, Tanya Tafolla & Katrina DeRoche, from CYT San Diego, get musical at the 2015 NLC.

It’s always a hassle to get to the CYT National Leadership Conference, but once you get there it’s one of the highlights of the year. On that note, make sure you start saving up for 2015 EXPO in San Diego this summer! You won’t want to miss out on the fun & fellowship.
A huge thanks goes to Gerald and Patti Broussard, Dana Bekurs, and the entire staff of CYT Lafayette. It truly was a remarkable weekend and they are, indeed, the hostess with the most-est! Y’all are some’um special.

Thanks for the reflections, Paul!

Merry Christmas from the Russells!

Paul and Sheryl Russell are the co-founders of CYT and the pseudo mom and dad to everyone in the CYT family. Below they reflect on the year and wish you a very Merry Christmas!

It’s hard to believe 2014 is coming to a close. As we look back over the year, we’ve had some new births… welcome CYT Tri-Valley and CYT Waco! That makes 24 Affiliates, with Austin joining the CYT family in 2015.

The Russell family has grown this year too…we welcomed a new granddaughter! Kinley Merae Cox born October 17 to Janie & Jon. Grandchild number seven is due June 2015 to Amy & Ryan. Keep them coming…more future CYT students!


Clockwise from left: Travis, Kim, Audrey (2), Sheryl, Paul, Jason, Danica, Everley (5), Gavin (7), Janie, Jon, Kinley (2 months), Crosby (5), Ryan, Millie (2), and Amy

Below is an excerpt from a speech that theatre blog writer Lyn Gardner made at the Unicorn Theatre in London.

“Theatre, particularly theatre for children, fires the imagination, it gives our children the skills and the creativity necessary to face the world, to understand it and perhaps to change it too. We should value children’s theatre and take it seriously and that means treating it with the respect that we would any work of art including reviewing and critiquing it.”

Thank you for valuing children’s theater, for taking it seriously, and for having a positive impact in your local communities. One of the CYT Affiliates asked their students what CYT meant to them and here are some of their responses:

“When I walked into rehearsal on the first day and so many people came up to me and said hello and gave me a big hug, in this moment I realized I was a part of something really special and I really do have a home away from home.”

“GROW… from having bad grades and a hard time in life to GROWING and now having all A’s and best friends I can hold onto forever from CYT.”

“… to connect… to meet new, cool and kind people… to make lifelong friends… to be supported… to build character…”

We wish you a very Merry Christmas!
Paul & Sheryl

Paul Russell: Practical uses for CYT’s Values & Objectives

CYT co-founder Dr. Paul Russell wrote the below blog post, and it sort of makes me want to go back to college…well, maybe just one semester so I could take his Musical Theater class. Enjoy (and see you on the first day)!

As I am teaching four new Musical Theater students in the Micah program at San Diego Christian College, I once again get to review with the kids the uniqueness of CYT. It all starts with our Mission Statement and Values and Objectives.

The four new college students have found them helpful as they are all assisting in the direction of CYT shows this Fall. Here’s a great review of how the ideals can be used in practical, everyday interaction with our CYT students.

CYT’s Values and Objectives

Placing the maximum worth on people and treating each individual with respect and significance.

It is important that people are always placed at a higher value than product or production. Therefore we will work tirelessly to insure that people are our first priority. We require all staff, directors, teachers, volunteers and students to show respect to each other and do all we can to build up and encourage each other realizing that each person is a special creation of God, each having unique skills, talents and gifts.

Developing character values in individuals including commitment, discipline, self-esteem, confidence and integrity.

Developing character traits in individuals can all be learned in the environment of the theater. Some of the most important character traits that we hope to instill in participants are the following:

Commitment: The character quality that says, “My word means something. If I said I will do something, you can count on me.” In making a commitment to a theatrical production, you learn to follow through, not give up, finish a job, and do it well. It is important for students to learn the importance of both promptness and regular attendance. If they say they will be there (via their audition form), they need to follow through with their commitment. Consistent class attendance is also to be expected.

Discipline: The important character trait of discipline is taught through a multitude of skills that are used in theater arts training. Such discipline of memorizing lines, learning dance steps, consistent blocking on stage, and faithfulness to a production are all great means of building discipline.

Self-esteem (belief in oneself–self-respect) and confidence (belief in one’s own abilities): Artistic teams have the opportunity to help students discover how God has uniquely gifted them, and thus build their confidence and self-esteem in the process. It is not about “how wonderful I am”, it is about “how wonderful God is.” In the teaching process, it is important to encourage and lift students up even during instruction.

Integrity (the quality or state of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity): CYT desires students to be the cream of the crop at school, church, and in the community. Integrity is when no one has anything to hold against you. This is perhaps the most difficult trait to attain. It involves being beyond reproof, as the Bible describes it. The best way to develop integrity in students is to be a leader with integrity. The old saying: “Monkey see, monkey do” is appropriate, especially with children. Students will model what they see. Be an Artistic Team of integrity and your students will follow you!

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Sheryl Russell: “Chair time…”

Below, CYT co-founder Sheryl Russell reflects on what she took away from her recent attendance at the Global Leadership Summit, a two-day event that serves pioneering pastors and leaders through world-class leadership experiences and resources.

global-leadership-summit-2012 I had the opportunity to attend the Global Leadership Summit in August and Bill Hybles was the opening speaker. His latest book is Simplify and I would recommend it for every leader.

“If you’re not in the daily habit of reaching for God’s hand and listening for His agenda, let me offer you a challenge: Find a spot in your home—for me, it’s a wooden rocking chair by the fireplace—and sit there for fifteen minutes a day, connecting with God. Read His Word, open up your life to Him, and listen for His whispers. When you’re in that chair and you’re in a right relationship with God, it secures your identity. It simplifies your agenda. You won’t be so tempted to run out and do all the other stuff that doesn’t matter a hill of beans to God. So, chair time. Start there.” – Bill Hybles, Simplify

“The biggest battle you will face in life is your daily appointment with God; keep it, or every other battle will become bigger.” – Ravi Zacharias, Christian apologist

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:40-42 NIV

What was Mary doing? “Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said.” 10:39

My challenge to you…

Start by reading a Proverb a day that correlates with the date. As you read it through the first month, September pick out verses that refer to “words”. October look for “wisdom”, November “poor” and December, any verse that speaks to you.

“My son, if you accept My words and store up My commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1-5

Being a “doer” has had its challenges. Most of my life, I have been the Martha, squeezing in a little of the Mary. When I began making it a daily routine and started renewing my mind by “putting off the old and putting on the new,” God’s word began to change me from the inside out. The peace that surpasses all understanding is real. Life will always be difficult… we will never be problem-free but remember, Jesus said He left us with His peace… it’s in His Word; we just have to dig for it.

CYT founders celebrate 40 years of marriage!

Paul & Sheryl Russell looking fancy at a recent CYT Portland gala

Paul & Sheryl Russell looking fancy at a recent CYT Portland gala

CYT founders Paul and Sheryl Russell celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on Sunday! That is a huge milestone that should be celebrated!

We thought we would rally everyone together to give them the best anniversary gift ever: a donation to CYT Inc. What better way to honor Paul and Sheryl than by helping to support the organization they built from the ground up?

A gift of support to CYT will act as a thank you for them pouring their effort and love into the organization that has changed all of our lives.

To make a gift, simply go to donate.cyt.org. When you make your gift you can also leave a message of congratulations for them in the “comments” box!

Let’s celebrate with Paul and Sheryl – 40 years is amazing!

CYT Expo: It’s all in the family

The CYT Expo is less than three weeks away! As we continue the countdown, CYT co-founder Sheryl Russell shares her thoughts on what the Expo means to her and why she’s so excited to see you in Houston.

Sheryl (center) with CYT leadership at the 2011 Expo.

Sheryl (center) with CYT leadership at the 2011 Expo.

The CYT “awkwardly closer than family” gathers once a year at EXPO to celebrate our accomplishments, to learn new best practices, to encourage each other, and to just have fun. We also have our national Improvathon competition, HYPE training, and this year we’ve added student activities.

Technology had helped us in so many ways… Email, texting, FB, Instagram, Dropbox, iPhone & on & on. But there’s nothing like a face-to-face conversation. EXPO allows us to look each other in the eyes & listen with our hearts.

I think one of the greatest benefits to attending EXPO is mentioned in Philippians 2:1-2 Living Translation:

Is there any such thing as Christians cheering each other up? Do you love me enough to want to help me? Does it mean anything to you that we are brothers in the Lord, sharing the same Spirit? Are your hearts tender and sympathetic at all? Then make me truly happy by loving each other and agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, working together with one heart and mind and purpose.

We definitely cheer each other up…it’s amazing to watch the Affiliates sharing ideas with each other and going the extra mile to make sure that not only is their program successful but all Affiliates are successful. It is about helping each other… learning from our wins and our failures. We share the same Spirit… we love God and we love people… we celebrate Christ’s gift of life to us. As a nation we have rallied with tender hearts to support those who have lost loved ones.

As a parent, one of my greatest joys is having my children and grandchildren together at in the same place at the same time. I believe EXPO brings the CYT family together in one place at one time. EXPO is a time to get our “emotional tanks” full as well as the opportunity to reenforce the “CYT Model”. We are a unique entity and it’s very reaffirming that we have our own “normal” when we are all together.

I had a CYT Mom share with me recently that she thought her daughter might be a little different and then she joined CYT. She saw kids who were exactly like her daughter and was over joyed and realize they had found their “like-minded” community.

Excited to see everyone and give and get the CYT hugs!!!

Get details about registration HERE.

Paul Russell: “Some things never change!”

[The following was contributed by Paul Russell, co-founder of CYT]

There is nothing like directing a CYT show.

I just finished directing Rapunzel (a new CYT original for CYT San Diego) and I have to tell you – it was messy, emotional, and bumpy. We went through major changes in the script, new songs, and testing out some new special effects (the release of 30 light lanterns into the auditorium). It was challenging to be in dress rehearsal and still re-writing the script, cutting songs, and re-blocking numbers right up to and after opening night.


I have to admit that I love the process of creating something new and wanting to see “if we can do it.” I love the rush of adrenaline that comes from mounting a new show. I enjoy watching little children laugh at slapstick humor and see them fall in love with live theater. I get pumped up in seeing if we can make a brand new work come to life in a fresh new way. That feeling is something that never seems to change.

Here are other things that never seem to change at CYT:

1. CYT students are fully committed to “putting on a show.” I’ve never seen such determination from students who will stay late, come early, and practice over and over again to get it right.

2. CYTer’s believe in the power of prayer and they expect God to show up on opening night. Prayer is not just a good luck charm that is tagged on at the beginning or end of a rehearsal. CYT kids really believe in a God who wants to bless His children.

3. CYT students seem to come alive with the Spirit of God when they get out on stage. Such joy, such bliss, such show-offs. Just like a 3-year-old yelling out, “Watch me, Daddy.” And of course, our Heavenly Father is watching and smiling and laughing.

4. CYTer’s really do care about each other. One girl stepped on some broken glass and cut her foot needing 17 stitches. The cast rallied around her and demanded that she still do the show – just with crutches.

5. CYT parents are AMAZING! Everything from fantastic costumes, wonderful sound, terrific crew members, clever props, fun souvenir gifts at the specialty table, great looking programs, outstanding sets, profitable refreshments, and ridiculous hair and make-up (we needed 90 ft. of braided hair for Rapunzel!) all to help make the show come to life. It was trilling watching the body of Christ come together like I’ve never quite seen before in any other organization.

Some things never change – thank goodness!