Leadership camp an eye-opener for teen

Ellen Coulter

For The New Era

Being one of two people chosen for Camp RYLA from Sweet Home, I was really excited.

I had no previous camp experience, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The nerves also started to show since I wouldn’t know any of the people there besides Kaitlyn Long, who also was chosen for RYLA. Were the other people going to like me? Would I make new friends? I was more worried about attending camp than attending high school.

Camp RYLA was held from June 22 to June 27 near Lyons. I first heard about it through Mr. Anderson, my leadership teacher, and he encouraged me numerous times to apply. The Rotary Club was sponsoring kids to attend. Never in a million years would I have thought this opportunity would change my life forever as a leader or that I would have such a tight-knit bond with a certain group of peers. Of course, I was wrong.

After we arrived and got settled in, there were a few warm-up activities for us to do to get to know one another. One activity we did was to find someone we didn’t know and introduce ourselves then go back-to-back, link arms and dance with them. While it was awkward, it was a nice icebreaker before we met our counselors and our group.

Afterward, Jeff Defranco, one of the directors of RYLA, explained to us that on the back of our name tags, we had the initials of which “species group” we were going to be in. I flipped over my nametag and saw BC. I was a Bobcat! Jeff explained once we do our impersonations of our animal and found someone from our same group, we could join our counselors.

There were 12 different groups: Bobcats, Crabs, Elk, Sea Lions, Jackrabbits, Chipmunks, Wolves, Rattlesnakes, Bears, Eagles, Salmon and Owls.

When I met my group for the first time, I was shocked. As a whole we were as different as we could get. However once we opened up and shared a piece of ourselves, we all related to each other on a deeper level despite how we appeared. It was a big eye-opener on how you really can’t judge a book by its cover.

Members of the Bobcat crew were Jessie Tarter, Meredith Horel, Brianna Blaser, Carter Peck, Chance Yager, Marie Kempf, Vesta Kerns, Sarah Dearborn and Don Swan.

Over the whole week, whether we were playing games, eating or enjoying each other’s company at our nightly campfires, we grew closer as a group even though we had different interests and probably wouldn’t hang out if we went to the same school.

That was the cool thing though. Because my new friends were unlike my friends at school, it brought a different perspective to me on what friends are. Each and every one of us played a major part in how we molded together, and while I did make other friends, they were my new family, my RYLA family.

We had two daily speakers that week, and one lady in particular sent an incredible message that impacted me deeply. Her name is Carol Menken-Schaudt, gold medalist in women’s basketball. She told us that service above self is what truly makes the world a better place, how if we just take a few moments out of our lives to better someone else, it would make that person’s day. Mrs. Menken-Schaudt made me realize that it doesn’t take a lot to help better a person’s day and that it is worthwhile to do so.

Soon the week was over, and while waiting for our buses to arrive, a lot of the girls were tearing up, myself included. I gave about a hundred hugs and said final goodbyes to my Bobcat crew, even though we all promised to keep in touch. We are all scattered around Oregon, and I felt sad to know I wouldn’t see them for awhile. However, I know I made friends for life.

Without the Rotary Club, I never would have met so many new people and had so much fun while learning ways to become a better leader. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. There is one person in particular that deserves my eternal gratitude, and that is Mr. Joel Keesecker, president of the Rotary Club and the man who sponsored me for RYLA.

Thanks to him, I met an amazing group of people my own age and honed my skills to become a better leader. I couldn’t be happier to have been chosen, and I hope to show my appreciation to Rotary members by showing them the leader I have become.