Ten local students recently participated in the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) conference Jan. 25-27 at Pine Knoll Shores, all thanks to their sponsors the Clinton-Sampson Rotary Club and the Rotary Club of Clinton.
Upon their return, the students visited their sponsors during last week’s Rotary meetings and shared their experiences from the conference.
Lillie Turlington talked about how informative the seminars were that they attended.“I liked the seminar on how to use positive humor because as high school students we tend to use negative humor a lot, like mean jokes or sarcasm, but it’s positive humor that makes other people feel comfortable.”
Jacob Blount noted that the culture walk event was one of his favorite things about the RYLA conference. “It was a time when people were able to stand up and say what they didn’t like about their particular stereotype.”
Blount explained that some of the stereotypes that were mentioned focused on the cliche stereotypes of high school cliques while other stereotypes were rooted in race or gender.
No matter what the stereotype, Blount found the event very moving. “Some of the stories just tugged at your heart. There were some tears.”
Raquel Rivas agreed, adding that the culture walk event was “an eye opener” and that she thought “everyone felt closer after it.”
Miriam Sanchez described the culture walk event as seeing “peoples’ walls come down.”
Eric Bradshaw agreed, sharing that the culture walk event made him tear up a little. “I didn’t realize how many people have so many problems.”
Bradshaw also enjoyed hearing from a man who had climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington. “He talked to us about going after big goals. I found it really inspirational.”
Valenti added that she, too, enjoyed what the Mt. Rainier climber had to share with them. “It showed me that it’s one thing to say you’re going to do something, but it’s really something else to actually do it.”
Setting goals and getting things done is an important part of being a leader, a lesson the Rotary hopes to impart to youth through this conference. These local students certainly got the message.
Sanchez pointed out that participating in the seminars that focused on how to be a better leader was one of her favorite parts of the conference.
Another important aspect of being a good leader is knowing how to get along and work with all kinds of people. Blount shared that they all took a personality test to find out what kind of personality they each have and what other personalities they work well with.
“It was a little scary because you take this multiple choice test that defines you,” shared Blount. “It wa really helpful though because it helps you understand how different people are and how you need to remember to be patient with others.”
Apparently, this group of students had no trouble getting along with others because they all agreed that meeting new people and making new friends was the best thing about the RYLA conference.
“We’ve made friends that will last a lifetime,” attested Valenti.
“I’m still in contact with many of the people I met,” Sanchez added.
“I loved makig new friends, and the girls, we all stayed in cabins together which was really fun,” shared Turlington. “We’d end up talking most of the night.”
Some of the new people they had the opportunity to meet were international students, said Valenti.
“There was one from Brazil, one from Belguim,” Valenti recalled. “They’re kids who host families live in our district so they were able to come to RYLA. It was really fun learning about their cultures.”
As the group shared their experiences from the conference, often laughing and joking with each other, it was easy to tell how much fun they had and it was no surprise when they all agreed that they would encourage other students to participate in RYLA if given the chance.
“I’ve already been telling others that they need to apply for this,” said Blount.
Valenti, who was chosen to be an ambassador at this year’s conference, shared how grateful she was to get to go to the conference for a second time. “I really enjoyed the double experience. I got to relearn everything I learned last year while observing the students who were there for the first time. I think I understood it all better. It was a new perspective for me.”
As excited as the students were about their RYLA experience, their parents were just as excited for them.
Susan Holder, whose son Peyton also went to the conference, expressed her gratitude to the Rotary Organization for offering her son the opportunity to attend RYLA and shared how the conference impacted her son. “He came home from the leadership training talking non-stop about the experience, enthused and with a new confidence in speaking up and offering perspectives in group settings.”
“What seemed to have the most impact for him was the opportunity to move beyond his typical circle of friends — who tend to have similar opinions, hobbies, and experiences — and engage with other youth and appreciate their perspectives, cultures, experiences, and challenges,” continued Holder. “That is an invaluable experience for students less than two years away from leaving for college.”
Jean Conerly of the Rotary Club of Clinton helped transport the students to and from the conference, and she shared that on the way back home the students were really excited about what they had experienced. “Over the years, RYLA has proven to be a great event for young people. They come back and speak to us about it, and we always hear positive responses from them.”
Likewise, Bryan Griffin, president of the Clinton-Sampson club, was impressed with the students and what they had to share. “You know, you often hear a lot of negative things about the younger generation, but these students are reminders to me that we’re going to be OK.”
“We are very impressed with the caliber of students who attended this year,” added Nancy Carr, executive director of United Way and a member of the Clinton-Sampson Rotary Club. “We’re pleased with the positive impact the weekend experience provided for these young people.”
For more information about the RYLA conference, visit rotary.org or contact a local rotary club.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 123 or via email at email@example.com.