Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) is a program that impacts young adults by emphasizing personal growth, leadership, and citizenship. The camp takes place at Camp Zephyr, a Christian Camp and Conference Center located in Sandia, TX. Mary McQueen, referred to by campers as “Momma Mac”, oversees RYLA.
During my junior year of high school, through the help of Rockport Rotary Club member and activist, Adelaide Marlatt, I earned a spot to experience RYLA as a first year camper. When I arrived, I was greeted by screams and chants from the energetic counselors.
My first thought was, “What have I gotten myself into?”
Little did I know this leadership camp - a camp the local Rockport- Rotary Club sponsors by selecting Rockport-Fulton High School (RFHS) students, grades 10-12 - would leave a lasting impression on my life as well as other awardees.
Fellow Pirate, Belle Eaton (Class of 2020) was also selected to participate.
During that first year of RYLA, Belle and I both became more aware of ourselves, as well as those around us. Momma Mac has more than 15 years experience at the camp, and strives to ensure campers will understand who they are, what their values are, and what their potential is.
Throughout our stay at RYLA, Belle and I were taught leadership depends on authenticity, something that is not possible without looking at oneself and determining one’s core values, strengths and limits. I spent time reflecting. It was at this point I was able to truly appreciate not only who I was, but also the people around me, and the power of diversity. Different people bring contrasting talents and perspectives and together we are able to achieve great things.
This year, A. Marlatt was faced with a strong group of potential RYLA awardees. In the end, she selected Emma Jungman, Caitlyn Ramaker, Alexis Espino and Jade Shuleman (all class of 2021) as RYLA awardees. Belle and I were encouraged to take the next step with the camp and opted to continue our relationship with RYLA as Trailblazer counselors. We became the very faces of those energetic counselors who greeted us the previous year. It was a great feeling, but also quite a bit of responsibility. As counselors, we focused on the organization of the camp, how to improve the daily operations, and in the end, how to become leadership models in practice.
A main objective of RYLA is to take what was learned and bring it back to our respective communities, in this case, RFHS.
Caitlyn said, “The camp was a great way to expand horizons. It inspired me to be involved in school activities such as student council and the National Honor Society.”
With participation in camps like RYLA, RFHS hopes to enhance the leadership abilities of its students. After Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Rockport-Fulton required critical elements of leadership throughout all levels of the community to move forward. The town demanded organization, cooperation, and motivation, which are core values that the students learn at RYLA.
RYLA has impressed the selected RFHS students by taking them out of their comfort zone and teaching crucial life skills. We all discovered in ourselves unique abilities and the ability to empower others. We are all grateful to the Rockport Rotary Club for the scholarship to attend the camp. Students connected with others both in and outside of their community in a unique and powerful way. We gained a new perspective and, as a result, confidence.
Belle and I plan to go back to camp next year as Junior Counselors to help enhance campers’ overall experiences, as well as to continue to grow and enhance our leadership abilities. We may well see Caitlyn, Emma, Alexis and Jade there, too. In the end, Momma Mac summed up the goals of the leadership weekend best, noting, “Counselors and participants will be able to lead and empower others as well as build a self-identity.”