Summit County students learn leadership at camp |

Summit County students learn leadership at camp

Kathryn Corazzelli
summit daily news
Summit Daiily/Kathryn Corazzelli

LARKSPUR – What’s contained in this orange bucket is the deadly Ebola virus, the senior counselor told the five seventh graders Tuesday.

To prevent an outbreak you must develop a plan to transfer the bucket, he instructed, without touching the bucket and without knocking over the ball on top of it, using only the ropes provided. And, the children were told, the only people who can touch the ropes are the other five kids on your team, who all happen to be blindfolded.

The first five stood for a second, figuring out how they could direct the “blind” children to complete the tricky task. They gathered the second five, and worked together to give them directions.

“Guys, I’m trusting you,” one of the blindfolded children said.

The bucket turned over, spilling the make-believe virus. The 10 children sat in a circle to re-evaluate their actions.

“I got so frustrated not being able to see,” one girl said.

“We needed to be more specific in our directions,” another said.

A lot of kids think it wouldn’t be fun to be blind, and that’s the moral of this story. But it’s about improving your communication skills and developing trust, said Rolando Cuadrado, president of the Rotary Club of Summit County and senior counselor at the Young Rotary Youth Leadership Awards in Larkspur, where 120 children are gathered this week for the five-day camp.

The camp serves two Rotary geographical districts, which includes over 120 clubs from parts of Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska and all of Wyoming. Children are sponsored by a Rotary club, which covers the $450 registration fee after each child goes through an application process. They must be in the seventh grade, and have demonstrated leadership in their school, community or place of worship. There are three student attendees from Summit County.

Each day’s schedule is packed full of activities designed to help develop personal confidence, trust of teammates, working as a team, communication and overcoming obstacles. The students are split into 12 10-member teams throughout the duration of the camp.

“The purpose is empowering youth to lead through discovering themselves,” Cuadrado said. “A lot of folks expect this to be classes – how to lead, how to make people follow you. But really, being a good leader means knowing how to work as a team and be a good follower as well.”

“I really like how in just two days, we’ve all become such close friends already,” said camper Cait McCluskie, a Summit County resident. “My team already has all these inside jokes. Just moving out of my comfort zone and making new friends has definitely helped me become more of a leader, and become more confident.”

Tuesday and Wednesday’s activities focused around 12 different stations throughout the day, one of which being the Ebola team-building exercise. Others included a video workshop – where children viewed short clips about different choices people make before discussing the outcomes – a rope-climbing and zipline course, a group exercise where the teams helped each other from plank to plank over an imaginary ocean, a trust exercise where the kids fell into each other’s arms, and a slam poetry session, where the children wrote about their life goals. One boy said he wants to visit all the continents, while another wants to play a professional sport.

The rest of the week’s activities include guest speakers, reflection periods, and “word of focus;” Tuesday’s speaker, one of the YRYLA junior counselors, spoke about what emotionally drives him. All campers take a self-assessment at the beginning and end of camp.

“I heard it was a lot of fun and it was for leaders, but I didn’t expect what I got,” said camper Peter Caamano, Summit County resident. “It’s just changed the perspective in the way I think so much… the way I think of life and the way I want to lead and the way I want to treat other people. Just being with my group, it’s like we’re a family now.”

All of the activities and staff were designed and chosen by the camp’s two head junior counselors, one of whom was Michelle Maddox, a former Summit High School student who graduated in 2009.

“It’s totally organized by the junior counselors. We just pay the bills,” Cuadrado joked of the senior counselors present, all rotary members.

Maddox attended RYLA, the camp designed for high school students, four years ago before founding the Interact Club, a rotary outreach at SHS. She was a junior counselor at Young RYLA for two years; this is her first as a head junior counselor.

“It’s really awesome to be able to hang out with the kids,” she said. The things they say at the end of the week, about how much their lives are changed, Maddox said, keeps her coming back year after year.

First year junior counselor Alex Cuadrado, Rolando’s son, said he enjoys being able to help the kids find their leadership potential, and pass on what he’s learned at RYLA.

“They come in not knowing what it is, sometimes wanting to come sometimes not wanting to, but after two days, I can already see them opening up and emerging within their teams,” said senior counselor and Summit rotary member Joni Ellis. “I forget they’re as young as they are. They’re so poised.”

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