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Students gain valuable experience at RYLA


Local teens LaNaya Gutierrez and Brandon VanDeMortel learned valuable lessons about leadership and gained lasting bonds at this year's Rotary Youth Leadership Awards camp.

Sidney's chapter of the rotary club sponsored the two Sidney High School seniors to the camp held in Halsey each summer.

At the camp the students listened to various speakers for a few hours per day. Some of the counselors told stories about their own lives.

"Some of them were really touching and kind of explained to you why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover without actually knowing everybody's story," Gutierrez said.

VanDeMortel said he discovered the value of respecting others, even when in a leadership role. He also learned that treating someone with respect comes back to you in a positive way. VanDeMortel moved to Nebraska following the deaths of both his parents; his dad when he was five and his mother three years ago.

"So treating people with respect and realizing that everyone has their own demons to fight, realizing that everyone deserves respect," VanDeMortel said. "That really hit home for me. In terms of everything that I've been through."

Those attending the camp also participated in activities such as a zip line and a water balloon fight.

Gutierrez said she didn't expect to make such lasting connections in such a short period of time.

"I can also say that something I was not expecting was the very strong bonding and friendships you make in this," Gutierrez said. "I can say I've made three sisters out of the girls that I was with and I definitely never expected to get that close after four days. I trust them more than most of my friends here, honestly. It was just such great bonding time."

Hearing the success stories of others and realizing his own potential for achievement were big positives for VanDeMortel.

"It was definitely a life changing experience," he said. "It's something I'll take with me for the rest of my life in both professionalism and just relationships overall."

This was the 22nd year for the camp which hosts kids from all over this district and spans from Grand Island west.

"Our club has always been committed to sending one boy and one girl at minimum," said Greg Scripp, representative for RYLA in Sidney.

The Sidney club invited high school juniors in potential leadership positions, those with high academic standards and with a history of community service to apply for the camp. Around 10 people applied. Well-roundedness was also a factor, Scripp said.

VanDeMortel teaches martial arts in Sidney and Gutierrez is captain of Sidney's cheerleading squad.

"The district feels that there's a need for a way for kids to get together and it provides for them a structured environment from which they can learn from professionals, political people, academic folks what leadership means," Scripp said.

Learning about different aspect of leadership is an important aspect of the camp.

"The purpose is to provide a framework and a foundation so kids can experience what it's like to be a leader," Scripp said. "What it takes to have leadership, how to hone the natural leadership that you may have in yourself, to understand just how important words are and body positioning when you're speaking to other people with respect to trying to lead them."

Learning that leadership doesn't always mean being in a lead role was a significant realization for both teens.

"You've got 80 leaders in one room and you definitely learn how to work in a group," Gutierrez said.

The Sidney rotary club addresses concerns with environmental degradation, illiteracy, world hunger and at-risk children. The local chapter gives aid to foreign countries faced with environmental disaster, as well as those in need in the United States.

Both teens said they made lasting connections at the camp.

"I definitely built a lot of good friendships and strong relationships with people that you didn't think you would meet otherwise," VanDeMortel said.


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