SGSC hosts Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) to grow future leaders
By Sarah Braswell
Early this summer, over sixty rising 11th and 12th graders from Southeast Georgia congregated on South Georgia State College’s (SGSC) Douglas Campus to be recognized for their leadership skills at the 2019 Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, better known as RYLA. Clubs within Rotary District 6920 recognize and sponsor one to four students from their club area who have demonstrated leadership ability to attend RYLA. The students then return to their sponsoring Rotary Club and give a presentation on all they experienced and learned from the retreat. District 6920 RYLA, sponsored by the Douglas Rotary Club, is a 4-day long camp highlighted by networking, team building, and leadership classes.
This year’s RYLA kicked off on Thursday with check-in and sponsoring club photos. The students were joined in their arrival pictures by Dr. Rob Page, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, and the SGSC Hawk. Thursday night’s opening banquet featured speaker was SGSC alumnus and public health activist Dr. Tracy McClelland, who encouraged RYLA students never to let life circumstances dictate their pursuance of their dreams. After the banquet, RYLA counselors, known as RAs, and the students enjoyed a time of team building and active learning.
Friday and Saturday were two full days packed with interactive leadership classes in the morning and more team building in the afternoons. This year’s featured speakers included Bill Borden, an Iditarod finisher, with the class entitled A Lead Dog’s View of Life, Business and the Pursuit of Happiness. Bill Jahn discussed the topic of Networking, and Ed Nichols shared the Fundamentals of Leadership. Andrea Giggetts led a laughter-filled class entitled, Customer Service in Leadership. Paige Graham led an interactive class on Conflict Resolution and Tajae Francis and Daniela Camacaro introduced the students to Rotaract, Rotary, and Leadership Development. Two of SGSC’s own also led classes. Elisa Johnson gave an incredibly practical seminar on Soft Skills in Leadership and Coach Randy Yonz, always a favorite with his candy bars, led a workshop entitled Team Building: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. After information-packed classes in the mornings, the RYLA students joined their RAs outside for teambuilding in the afternoons and fun and fellowship in the evenings.
The Saturday night banquet featured seasoned RYLA instructor and favorite storyteller, Bill Borden. Mr. Borden’s closing speech to the students explored the idea that, though we often know where we want to go and how we want to get there, we should never let detours and diversions stop us from enjoying the journey. He concluded with the sage council that, “There are three pieces of information about our lives etched on our tombstones: the date we are born, the date we die, and the dash between the two. That dash represents all of the living that we did in our entire life times, so my advice to you is this, “Live the dash.”
The weekend concluded with a delicious brunch, provided, like all meals during RYLA, by the SGSC Dining Services, Aladdin. Sunday’s featured speaker was RYLA alumnus instructor Andrea Giggetts, who gave a great send-off presentation that encouraged students to use what they learned during RYLA to go back and impact their communities. The Sunday Banquet concluded with the awards ceremony. The first award given was to Victoria Noel of Brunswick, Ga., who submitted the most photographs over the course of camp. The next awards were given to four students who the RYLA students felt most embodied leadership over the weekend – one student for each of the four smaller groups. These students were: Sydney Strickland of Glennville, Ga. (R group), Billy Check of Macon, Ga. (Y Group), Hannah Puckett of Fitzgerald, Ga. (L Group), and Anabelle Brannen of Register, Ga. (A Group). The attendees also selected one outstanding student to represent RYLA 6920 Student of the Year. This prestigious honor quite deservingly was awarded to Jenny Belle Butler of Macon, Ga.
Overall, RYLA 2019 was fantastic. In fact, RAs, instructors, and leadership all commented on how well all of this year’s RYLA students really embodied the RYLA spirit. They have all already begun to put what they learned into practice, and all are excited about what RYLA 2020 will hold. Dr. Charles Johnson, SGSC’s Dean of the School of Sciences and RYLA Chairman for Rotary District 6920, said, “This year we had the best, most mature group of students in all my time chairing RYLA for Rotary District 6920. This group of students will make outstanding leaders in a few years.”
Grace Stone represented the Douglas Rotary Club at the 2019 RYLA program.
Halle Bynum and Hannah Puckett represented the Fitzgerald Rotary Club at the 2019 RYLA program.
Ruby Lefand represented the Waycross Rotary Club at the 2019 RYLA program.