BILLERICA, MA — Can two and a half days at a Rotary Camp change your life? For at least two students from Shawsheen Valley Regional Technical High School, the answer is absolutely YES.
Briana Haley and Samantha Wareham recently attended the Rotary Youth Leadership Award camp held in Boxford MA on the weekend of June 2nd thru the 4th. Briana is a junior from Tewksbury and Samantha is a sophomore from Burlington. Briana and Samantha attended the Rotary Camp along with Shawsheen students Marissa Kearney, a junior from Billerica, Rebecca Gullotto, a junior from Wilmington, and Matthew Callahan, a sophomore from Billerica.
The Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) camp, sponsored in this case locally by the Rotary District 7930, is an on-going activity of Rotary clubs worldwide according to Andy Maddox. Andy is a Rotarian from the north shore who volunteers to help organize and facilitate the RYLA camp experience in Boxford MA. Mr. Maddox, who works in Gloucester, emphasized that this camp experience is designed “to develop positive leadership skills in high school students who have demonstrated leadership potential”.
Briana and Samantha said when they first arrived at camp they were nervous about joining with the other sixty high school sophomores and juniors arriving for the weekends activities. But their mood and attitude changed very quickly as they got to know some of the other young leaders. RYLA became an amazing “reality check” for me, said Briana as she acknowledged the diversity represented in the group that assembled in the mess hall that evening. “By the end of the night we were one big family”.
The students participated in a culture walk on Friday evening that according to Briana and Samantha served to bring the group together. “The culture walk opened my eyes” Briana said. I used to walk down the hallways at school with my head down because I didn’t want to notice anything. But now I am going to be walking around and will be noticing a lot more. It made me happier — it made me feel more positive about myself”.
The attendees at RYLA are organized into small groups called “families”. Over the course the weekend the groups engage in challenging outdoor activities which include a rope climb along with a tightrope walk. These activities accompanied by numerous other workshops and group exercises are intended to build self-confidence in each camper while simultaneously developing communication and problem-solving skills.
For Samantha the RYLA weekend experience was a “life changing event”. She admits that she recognized her leadership potential but noticed that some of her ideas about leadership prior to attending RYLA were somewhat “negative”. Her experience at RYLA helped her see this aspect of herself and allowed her to develop an entirely new perspective on leadership, a perspective focused on inclusion and positivity.
In a moment of reflection Samantha offered this insight: “Honestly, they were not just teaching us to be leaders, they were teaching us to care – like care about who you are leading and who you are fighting against. Care about others who hold different point of views and try to understand who they are and why they are fighting for what they are standing for and not just what you are standing for”. “If you want to be a leader show positivity and care about others.”
The bonds the campers forged have the potential to last a lifetime. Samantha is eager to return to RYLA next year as a student and then again potentially as a counselor and Rotarian. Briana also expressed an interest in staying involved with RYLA beyond high school. Michael Quinones is a recent Shawsheen Tech grad now attending St. Bonaventure College benefited from attending RYLA in 2014 and he now participates as a mentor during the weekend experience. “I made friends for life the weekend I attended RYLA, and several of my RYLA friends and I have made a commitment to each other and to Rotary to remain active and involved.
Experiences like leadership camp are just one activity offered at Shawsheen Tech to help students learn the skills they need for successful futures. Shawsheen students have attended RYLA camps thanks to the efforts of Ms. Terry Henry from the Guidance Department along with Ms. Karen Massahos a teacher in the Business Technology program. “My passion is deep and true to RYLA because I felt it was a “life changing” experience”, says Ms. Massahos, “no student came back from RYLA the way they left. This can be a break through moment for these young people who continue to grow and blossom.”
(NOTE: The above press release and photo are from Shawsheen Tech.)
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