Rotary campers hone leadership skills


Students coming back from RYLA camp often describe how the weekend helped them overcome their natural shyness.

Kilgore High School junior Jayme Butts brought back another lesson from this year’s weekend excursion near Waco.

Sure, Butts said, the mass of people milling around made her uncomfortable when she arrived earlier this month with her fellow Kilgore campers – four other KHS juniors and one Sabine High School junior. Sponsored by Kilgore Rotary Club members, the six students plunged into the mix at the Rotary Youth Leadership Award camp.

“I never saw myself as a shy person. I always assume the leadership position,” Butts told the Rotarians during the group’s followup with the local club Wednesday. According to ‘Earthquake,’ as she was known to her RYLA team, over the course of the weekend, “I learned more how to be a follower of others and when it’s right for me to be a leader.”

RYLA felt like leaping into the great unknown, said SHS junior Kali “Vegas” Bynog. It was scary – no one knew what to expect from the weekend.

Soon enough, the students were blindfolded and thrown into the air in turn, one of numerous team-building challenges throughout the weekend Bynog initially felt would be impossible for her to overcome.

“Now, I believe that I can conquer many impossible things,” she said this week. “All I need to do to make some new friends is open up and talk a little bit … take the leadership when necessary.”

In the end, it was an exciting opportunity, Bynog said, and she’s telling sophomore friends about the experience now so they’ll sign-up for a spot when the Kilgore Rotary Club takes applicants this fall for the February 2019 camp.

For Maria ‘Morals’ Morales, the weekend left her with a better understanding “nothing is impossible” with her own determination and the support of others.

“Arriving at the camp, I was very shy because everybody was so positive and outgoing,” she said. Quickly, though, the ‘Trust Fall’ exercise forced the KHS junior to open up and put her well-being in her new friends’ hands. “It taught that trust is really important when conquering a goal.”

Carlos ‘Curly’ Muniz said the camp didn’t cure his shyness, but it had a significant impact.

He was reticent initially, but the experience forced the KHS student to open up.

“I started talking to my team and got to know them,” he said, “and it was a really amazing experience,” one that broadened his definition of leadership: “Planning, also, was really important.”

Dubbed ‘Becky with the Good Hair’ by her fellow campers, Perla Vazquez acclimated quickly: she already had high expectations of RYLA after her sister, Sandra, described her “life-changing” trip there in February 2016.

“It was something I wanted to do, something I was craving,” Vazquez said. “I’d heard so many good things about it, and I want to change like she did.”

It was, indeed, a life-changing weekend for the KHS junior.

“You don’t know until you get there. People show you and teach you that if you open yourself to something, you’re going to get so much from it.”

Brandon Fugler – ‘Crow’ to his camp-mates – says he was, honestly, afraid going into the weekend, out of his comfort zone, especially when it came to activities like the trust fall.

“I had to let myself go and trust that the total strangers around me would catch me,” the Kilgore High Schooler told the Rotarians, “and they did. I never thought that I could make friends so quickly.

“Every part of RYLA helped me to become a better person if not a better leader.”

He learned a valuable lesson about integrity.

In the midst of the campers’ challenges, if they reached an impasse, “We needed to admit our mistakes to move forward,” Fugler said, relying on each other’s insight and talents: “Everybody had a chance to say what was on their mind, and everybody had a chance to be a leader.”