Dowagiac Rotary Club's college mentors, Mandy Smith, Mallory Cox, past district governor Jim Alden and Greg Neumayer. Mandy's sister, Ashley, could not be present because of clinicals for her nursing program at Southwestern Michigan College. (The Daily News/John Eby)
Dowagiac Rotary Club's college mentors, Mandy Smith, Mallory Cox, past district governor Jim Alden and Greg Neumayer. Mandy's sister, Ashley, could not be present because of clinicals for her nursing program at Southwestern Michigan College. (The Daily News/John Eby)

Archived Story

Rotary inspires four with college mentors

Published 10:24am Friday, February 12, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Rotary youth leadership programs don’t affect everyone the same, but they do leave an indelible impact.

Greg Neumayer’s connections made since the fall of 2005 carried him from St. Louis to Wyoming.

He traveled the farthest out of his comfort zone so far.

Mandy Smith has no desire to leave Dowagiac, but she is ready to lead locally by starting a Rotaract Club for ages 18 to 30 at Southwestern Michigan College.

Her sister, Ashley, explored nursing enough to know it’s not her calling. Her voyage of self-discovery continues.

And Mallory Cox, a shy 16-year-old sheltered by her rural Dowagiac, home-schooled upbringing, has blossomed into interest in the business end of dance. She took classes at Miss Kathy’s and participated in 4-H.

“I didn’t have a lot of opportunities like some kids did,” she thanked Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889. “Free camp? I took the chance. RYLA camp was an eye-opener for me.”

After completing her business degree, she hopes to acquire the dance studio where she is assistant director.

Past District Governor Jim Alden took Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA), formerly known as life leadership camp, and developed it to two new levels – advanced and college mentoring.

This district is the only one in the United States with the latter two, for which Dowagiac Rotary Club sponsored four during the past four years – sisters Mandy and Ashley Smith, Mallory Luthringer and Greg Neumayer, who attended with his “wife of a week,” Lyndee.

They met at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Ind., and enjoyed each other’s company for three years as best friends before becoming romantically involved.

“Little did I know six years ago,” Alden said of being assigned to “turn around” RYLA after it lost $6,000. Alden was with the Gull Lake club in another district, 6290, when his association with life leadership camp began.

“We used the Hastings YMCA camp for almost 10 years” for team-building “experiential education.”

Frustrated at a lack of follow-up on previous campers, “I felt it was time we started a continuation program so we’ll know where these students are,” Alden said. “We developed an advanced program. Students didn’t know they were selected, but we had evaluators,” including Dowagiac Treasurer Mike Franks two years.

“We had criteria and they were observed. We ranked (campers) on objective and subjective scoring. We then selected students to go to advanced, which the first two years was held in conjunction with the district conference.”

Mandy compared climbing the RYLA ladder to a “process of elimination” because mentors have all been culled from larger groups of students.

By 2005, advanced grew into college mentoring.

“Your club has supported that program very, very well,” Alden said. “We’ve had some of the most outstanding students come from the Dowagiac club. How can I say that? Because I’ve been involved with the program and I know every one of them very, very well. I’ve observed them for going on six years. There’s no doubt in my mind they’re all going to be Rotarians and go on and help this district with this outstanding program.”
The “award” when the name changed to RYLA was meant to denote identifying outstanding high school students and awarding them with free attendance at leadership camp.

Mandy Smith

Mandy, Dowagiac’s 2007 salutatorian, seems well down a path to being a college administrator.

Mandy, who is newly engaged to be married, started in the program in 2006.
Mandy graduates with her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Ferris State University this year through SMC after largely finishing her associate degree through dual enrollment while still at DUHS.

Mandy works for SMC in the enrollment management office as an outreach specialist, where “you get a lot of good experiences from the people you know. Having a real job is a whole different world. I often learn more in that small three-day December seminar than I could learn in weeks. I thank the program a lot.

“I hope to continue working at SMC. I will be around Dowagiac. This is a wonderful town I’m in love with and I’m excited I will be able to stay here and be involved in so many things that happen here. I’m especially fond of Dowagiac Rotary Club because as I’ve been involved with RYLA and the CM (college mentoring) program, I found out that Dowagiac’s kind of famous in the Rotary world. I had no idea, so I’m very proud to say I’m sponsored by the Dowagiac Rotary Club when I go to events.

“To give back to Rotary and to Dowagiac, Mallory and I were just discussing starting a Rotaract Club. We’re seeking your blessing to go to SMC to start that club,” said Mandy, whose audience included SMC President Dr. David M. Mathews.

Greg Neumayer

Greg, from Cassopolis, was unable to attend the December seminar because his internship as a youth director from early October until the end of 2009 for a Constantine church took him to Ohio for a conference.

“The most impacting thing of RYLA has been experiential learning,” Greg said. “I don’t think there’s a better way to teach leadership skills, interpersonal communication, public speaking, teamwork and self-awareness. I believe that so much” that in Constantine he adapted RYLA leadership activities, such as blindfolds with scripture from Psalms 121.
“What we’re trying to grasp with these students is that there’s something greater than themselves. Many youth groups lack a true unified team because they come from many different schools, homes and communities to this little church. We tried to instill unity and a sense of purpose. RYLA contributed heavily to my ability to teach students on the junior high and high school level. Lyndee and I hope to be enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., as of this coming June. I will be pursuing a master’s in Christian education. There I hope to continue to see how we can take true faith principles and meld them into experiential learning so it’s not just facts and memorization, like what I grew up in. Not just what you believe, but why and how we experience it.”
CM “has been incredibly instrumental” in landing internships “which have helped me pursue this sidetrack of traditional ministry” before he graduates from Bethel College in May with a double major in Biblical studies and Christian ministry and secondary concentrations in Biblical languages and philosophy.
“Because of my connection with the CM program,” Greg’s mentor, a Bethel professor, arranged a “non-traditional” internship in St. Louis, Mo., in 2008.

“It was small, fast-multiplying, reproducible church model,” he said. “We met at a small house every other weekend and went out talking to people, making disciples. Not just songs or traditional methods of asking people to come to a building once a week. We went to Hyde Park, which is very famous for its violence and racial segregation, and we saw reconciliation happen between African American, Hispanic and white congregations.”

His second internship last summer took Greg to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
“I took six other students from my college, Bethel, and connected them with that St. Louis church and we went to Wyoming and spent the summer, from the second week of May to the second week of August, in Grand Teton National Park. We pursued simple one-on-one discipleship relationships. As we all returned to our different colleges, those relationships continued to grow. It’s very amazing to get out of your comfort zone and to see a group of people go to one place that is now where they have in common. We continue to meet.”

Mallory Cox

“I was the classic introvert” when she encountered Rotary. “The program opened by eyes to the ability to communicate with others and work with others on the high ropes course. I’m not fond of heights, but we were constantly pushed to the limit to be more than who we were. I was one of the youngest students to go. I had to push myself to open up and to go further than I had ever gone before. I did not know about the secretive evaluators who watched us. I was extremely surprised when Jim Alden said there was another segment called advanced training in business. I loved RYLA, so it was just another opportunity in navy blazers and name badges. At the district conference we were surrounded by Rotarians – not just from Michigan, but all over the country and the world. We met all of these extraordinary people. We were pushed to our limits again doing public speaking, debating and listening techniques. For someone who’s not talkative, that was a brand-new aspect of my life I had to learn. I’m a country girl. We even had an etiquette class to learn to present ourselves at dinner settings.”

Mallory was 17 and a sophomore when she entered CM, intended for seniors and college freshman.

“I was a little nervous,” she confided. “It opens doors and opportunities I never would have had otherwise,” including three internships at a girls’ camp in New York operated by Alden’s daughter.
Mallory is now an evaluator herself after counseling at three RYLA camps.
Field trips? In 2007, she visited Argonne, the first national laboratory and one of the leading U.S. centers of federally-funded research and development.

Managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC, Argonne’s mission is to conduct research and development in the national interest in support of the U.S. Department of Energy. It had an annual operating budget of $500 million and 2,800 fulltime employees from 61 different nations and every scientific discipline. Argonne has produced 34 spin-off companies and, since 1990, received nearly 750 patents. It is located on 1,500 wooded acres in the southeastern corner of DuPage County, near Lemont, Ill.

“With the Internet, cellphones and the network created, quite literally at the touch of a button, I have access to a lifetime of advice from leaders throughout the country and the world,” she said. “I have that ability because of wonderful individuals such as yourselves. I’ve been awestruck and inspired, challenged and encouraged.”

Ashley Smith

Mandy and her sister are the only siblings admitted to the RYLA program. Ashley is a student in the nursing program at Southwestern Michigan College, though she plans to spend the summer “soul-searching.”

She could not attend due to nursing clinicals.

Ashley works part-time at the Museum at SMC and for McDonald’s.

Last spring she finished her nursing prerequisites at SMC. She was accepted into the nursing program last fall and is in her second semester.

She has experienced giving patient care at Lakeland-Berrien Center, West Woods, a Niles nursing home, and Lakeland-Niles on the obstetrics floor.

Her mentor, Jill Eldred, R.N., formerly worked with Rotarian Joy Strand, Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital chief operating officer.

Eldred, Dowagiac Nursing Home interim administrator in 1998-99, went on to become president of eight-county Borgess Visiting Nurses and Hospice and a Rotarian with the Kalamazoo Noon Club by the time she spoke to Dowagiac Rotary in November 2006.
“I’m thinking about switching majors,” Ashley wrote.

“I’ve enjoyed it so far, but this is just not my passion. I think there’s something else out there that would be a better fit for me … I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without this program.”
Doug Stickney, despite being sidelined by surgery, put the program together from home. “He’s not here with us, but he’s working for us,” President Cathy Merrill said.

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