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Camp RYLA- An unforgettable experience

posted Jun 16, 2013, 10:52 AM by Thabit Pulak   [ updated Jun 16, 2013, 11:52 AM ]
"Reach for the future" is the slogan you are greeted with upon entering through the gates of Camp RYLA. Actually, before that, genuinely excited alumni of the camp first carry you away from your car, and cheer exuberantly upon entering RYLA. Honestly, when I found out I got accepted to RYLA, although I was excited, I ultimately underestimated what I would gain from this camp. Compared to other camps/programs I've been to over the years, Camp RYLA excels in almost every imaginable category. For example, the staff at Camp RYLA are the best of the best. A mere 20 Assistant Counselors(A.Cs) have been filtered out from a pool of over 3,000 people. These 20 counselors undergo a full year of training just to be prepared for this 1 week camp. In addition to the A.Cs, 20 Counselors are picked from a large pool of dedicated Rotary Club members, who go through a whole year of training as well. The result of all this is a camp that is beyond amazing, with well-organized events, with immersive activities, and unforgettable memories. 
A cool thing about RYLA is that it is also run by the RYLArians (campers) themselves. You get to join a "committee" which is in charge of some duty of the camp. For example, there are committees that are in charge of entertainment, activities, the campfire, and the wrap-up (last day activities). I was in the publications committee, which is regarded by alums as perhaps the most work-intensive committee. I felt inspired to join after I read the 1st edition of the RYLA newsletter (RYLArian Inquisitor), which was published by the RYLA alumni. 

Basically, this committee is in charge of publishing a newsletter on the day's events everyday. What makes the job more intense is that the committees meet for only 45 minutes a day, in which you must write your article. Honestly, I never did like writing very much. I like to read, but not to write. But I felt that since I was attending a leadership camp, and I did indeed know that I have a problem in such an area, I knew that the only way to overcome come it and perhaps become a better leader in the process is to boldly face it. So I volunteered to join the publications committee.

It was initially slightly intimidating, as in the first day, we were all brainstorming ideas, and I felt that I was the only guy not really contributing very constructively to the discussion. People were taking up their assignments on what they would write. I felt nervous because I was worried that I wouldn't have something good to write. However, I suddenly realized I could contribute, in part as an editorial writer. Everyone unanimously agreed with my suggestion (partly because it would perhaps require the most work to do). 

For my first editorial, I decided to write on my thoughts on a man that spoke to us that evening, the first motivational keynote speaker for Camp RYLA 2013, Jerry Trailor. He was a man with an inspirational story. Jerry suffered from partial paralysis of the legs due to cerebral palsy, yet managed to overcome many of life's obstacles through determination and perseverance. My writing made it to the front page of the 2nd edition of the Rylarian Inquisitor newsletter, as I found out that night, as newsletters are passed out during dinner. (the 1st edition was written by the staff, as we had just arrived). 

Back at Boy's Cabin 2, I got to be quite well acquainted with everyone. It just struck me quite hard how every single one of the boys were completely unique, with pretty much no overlap in certain skills and balances. ( I later found out that the resumes we submitted were carefully reviewed by staff, and a special committee put campers into groups where no skill would be repeated in one group). 

The second day at RYLA, the highlight was definitely listening to motivational speaker Troy Stende. He talked of breaking through mental barriers which are important to achieve life goals. His speaking style as a whole was quite inspirational, and even emotional. Most of the female campers, and even some males  were watching Troy Stende speak with glistening eyes filled with tears (I myself got a bit misty-eyed). The signature part of his speech was an activity in which every camper was given a fresh block of wood, and told to "break" through it. The block of wood would represent a barrier that the individual camper was facing. The activity was beautiful, to say the least. 
Campers were cheering others who were in the process of breaking their blocks of wood, and were extremely supportive of those who couldn't break it initially. 

By the end of the breaking, most campers were crying, and everyone in the room was literally feeling transformed by the symbolic gesture and the amazingly deep finishing comments of Troy Stende. That night at the cabin, I decided to draft an editorial on the event, to be typed and published the next day. Much to my joy and the praise of my fellow cabin members, my writing was once again published in the front page. 
The third day at RYLA, in short, we listened to another motivational speaker, Missy Walls, who was the head of Teen Contact, an organization designed to help depressed teens. I wrote an article that day about it, titled "Worrying about more important things". However, it was ultimately an event overshadowed by the ragball tournament, which I never played before, but was quite amazing. You are tied to another teammate, with whom you must coordinate your moves throughout the game, which is a modified baseball game. Cabin 2 (my cabin) ended up winning 2nd place overall (Cabin 4 won). Playing in the 100 degrees heat was quite difficult, but it ended up being a rewarding experience overall. 

The RYLA Volleyball tournament was held on this day as well. After some rigorous exchange of slaps and hits that sent the ball rocketing back and forth, my team (Cabin 2) actually ended up winning the whole tournament. We nearly, however, got 2nd place, but due to a surprising turn of events, our team ended up winning. I decided to write about this for the newspaper as well. 

The fourth day at RYLA, Mindy Audlin, founder of SpiritualityTodayTV, gave a speech on community connections. At the end of her keynote, she gave an activity in which campers would have to build a "home" out of newspapers that was large enough to shelter one person in 20 minutes, using limited rationed supplies. Groups of 15 campers were made, and each group had to coordinate with one another to share supplies to ultimately construct 15 "homes". It was an intense activity, with many people nearly giving up due to time constraints. Luckily, everyone was able to build a "house" in the time limit, and it ultimately was an enjoyable activity. 
The 4th day at RYLA was the last full day of camp. (We had to leave on the afternoon of the 5th day).  We went to the amphitheater to watch skits that each cabin planned out throughout the week. After that was the main event of the day, which was the camp fire, in which we were to recollect the events of the week together. Many people were crying, upon the realization that the camp was nearly over. Our director, Dana Mackinson, talked about how a "light" that each of us put out is enough to light the world. He symbolized this by giving each camper a candle, and just one lighter was used to light the first candle. Thereafter, each subsequent candle was lighted simply by contact with the preceding one. Truly, the campfire was a soothing, yet emotional event. 

The 5th day of RYLA was the last day. We watched a recap video of the week, including photos, and videos. I decided to also write an article for the newsletter about my overall experience at RYLA. The story made the front page, which was great, as this was the final newsletter of Camp RYLA. 
After eating lunch, the time for departure came. We all gathered in an outdoor pavilion, where we ate pizza and ice cream, and chatted with our friends and said goodbye to them one by one. It was both a happy and an emotional time. It was happy, because we were so attached to one another in just a span of the week, but it was sad because we didn't want to see them go. Our cabin made an agreement to make frequent reunions (in fact, I think there's going to be one at the end of this month, June!). When my ride finally came at last, I said my last goodbyes, and left the pavilion to my vehicle. I myself was sad, but oddly enough, I wasn't to the point of completely missing anyone. I felt that way because I knew deep in my heart that one day, I would inevitably meet these people, sooner or later once again. It's a small world after all.