By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun
The 2019 Rotary Youth Leadership Awards have wrapped up, and Kern Valley High School’s participants have nothing but good things to say about their experience.
Juniors Juan-Carlos Lopez and Joey Moyer and sophomores Hailey Edge and Caley Osorio left the Kern River Valley to spend 4 days at this year’s RYLA event in Ojai.
The Rotary Club International calls RYLA an “intensive leadership experience.” In a summer-camp like atmosphere, students are divided into color coded teams and have to work together to navigate leadership classes that include experiences ranging from a ropes course to diversity and ethics training.
All courses are meant to test students’ comfort zones and teach them to move forward with confidence.
This year’s RYLA participants had different reasons for wanting to attend. Lopez said he was inspired by his brother’s enthusiasm surrounding last year’s trip, while Edge and Osorio were intrigued by the prospect of meeting a diverse array of new friends that they might not meet in any other way.
Moyer, like RYLA participants before him, was initially drawn in by the introductory meeting’s free food. However, he quickly realized that he did not want to pass up the opportunity to learn something new.
“They talked about how it opens you out of your shell and lets you become a leader,” said Moyer. “I thought because I want to be a teacher, it will help me one day.”
Lopez noted that students were able to collect contact information from professionals in the fields they are interested in joining, while Moyer, Edge and Osorio were happy to learn how to navigate social pressure, feel comfortable approaching others and just ‘be themselves.’
“I learned how to go up to people and introduce myself and meet new people, have a good attitude about it and carry myself better,” said Edge. “And I thought those were really good qualities that I needed to know.”
The RYLA students agreed that diversity training and the ropes course were their favorites.
“It was mostly because they shared personal stories about their backgrounds, what they’ve gone through, what they haven’t gone through,” Lopez said of diversity training. “It was a special bonding time with your group.”
“We all cried,” said Moyer. “A lot.”
Osorio also noted that one of her favorite courses was a public speaking class in which group members had to come up with a product and sell it as if they were on the TV show Shark Tank, where contestants must successfully sell their product idea to a panel of investors.
“You’re encouraged to break off with other people and get to know them better. You all agree on stuff, and you all build a story together,” said Osorio. “And it’s helpful to be able to get that teamwork in there.”
And when they came home, they realized that some of their habits had changed.
“I learned to be more patient,” said Edge, who said that even her mother had noticed a change in her attitude.
“Mine was positivity,” said Lopez. “The stories you heard there, they were impactful. They always remind you that no matter what, someone is going through something harder than you are. So always stay positive.”
The students all agreed that they would encourage any students interested in RYLA to participate next year. Lopez said it was an “awesome experience,” and Edge called it “life-changing.” Moyer said that regardless of what students might think going into it, they would absolutely make new friends.
“It’s definitely a once in a lifetime experience,” said Osorio. “I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I’m grateful that I was able to go. So if you can go, definitely do it.”
For more information on Rotary International and RYLA, visit www.rotary.org.