By Sienna Shetler
contributing writer 

Six THS and VOCS students attend Rotary Youth Leadership Award camp

Rotary Club of Tehachapi


May 14, 2022

Photo provided

Two RYLA campers conquer their fear of heights on the Rope Bridge.

Tehachapi Rotary Club sponsored 6 high school students from Valley Oaks Charter School and Tehachapi High School to the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) camp: Aby Fuller, Davery Pogon-Cord, Nicholas Aldava, Reagan Rodrigues, William Werner and me, Sienna Shetler.

When I first heard of Camp RYLA, I was a bit skeptical. The four day event - held at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California - was advertised as something that would change my life and better equip me and my fellow campers to handle what lay ahead. I figured that this was an overdramatization, that it would just be another one dimensional camp that would tell me who to be and how to act.

After talking to some of my peers, I found that this skepticism was almost universal, but just as universal was the subversion of these expectations. The camp turned out to do just what it advertised and more. The counselors, instructors, and other volunteers created a safe atmosphere that I found to be entirely inspiring.

Much of the time spent at RYLA was in workshops such as team building and diversity. Kids were encouraged to bond and gain from each other's experiences, sharing stories and discussing topics that would not often be brought up under regular day-to-day circumstances.

Because of this unique dynamic, I learned so much about the people around me, their different perspectives, experiences and dreams. Our backgrounds were all so different, and yet we were still able to find similarities in the small things. That was something I loved about the experience; so much of what I learned came from my peers.

At the end of the camp, RYLA gives out 6 awards to students at the closing ceremony: Most Enthusiastic, Most Outspoken, Service Above Self, Character Award, Team Leader scholarships (8 color teams) and Talent Show winners. THS student Davery Pogon-Cord was given the RYLA Green Team Leader award and a $500 scholarship. I was awarded first place for the Talent Show for a musical performance, as well as the Character Award for standing up and voicing what I believed during a keynote session, and challenging the speaker to clarify what he had said.

What I know now about the camp is that it isn't just about teaching people to be successful, it's about teaching kids to do good things for the people around them, and to inspire others to do the same. That's truly valuable. I'm extremely thankful to the Tehachapi Rotary Club and Rotary District 5240 for the privilege of attending RYLA.

The Rotary Club of Tehachapi is a volunteer service organization with the motto, "Service Above Self." The club meets on Thursdays at noon. For more information about Rotary Club, you can visit their Facebook page at or contact club President Paul Kaminski, (661) 699-5851.


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