DUHS young women put their trust in strangers

Published 8:52 pm Thursday, September 19, 2013

Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) camp only lasts a weekend, so achieving trust is hastened by intense team-building exercises, such as climbing a rock wall — blindfolded.

Chieftain Monitor journalist Mackenzie Ruff became the only female to successfully scale the red wall at the risk of “hurting a couple of the guys’ feelings,” she recounted for Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889 for an audience that included DUHS Principal Pieter Hoekstra, Supt. Dr. Mark Daniel and retired Supt. Larry Crandall.

Rotary paid $600 for her and two fellow DUHS Interactors, senior Morgan Adams and junior Shyasia Cook, to attend camp Aug. 16-18 at Battle Creek Education Center.

“They lift you up and surround you so there’s no chance you’re going to fall,” Morgan said, “so you learn to trust people in a safe environment.”

The experience of literally working closely with people who were strangers a few hours before “really opens your eyes,” Mackenzie said, explaining that “Squeezebox” packed 12 of the 13 in their group in a three-by-four-by-five-foot box elevated on posts.

“I’ve never been that close physically to anybody,” she said. “It was awful. All you could see was feet and one girl’s were dangling. She couldn’t even touch the ground. One thing I liked about that exercise was there were a couple of people who were claustrophobic and our group applied positive peer pressure, telling them it’s a once-in-lifetime thing and you’ve got to go for it.”

“I think Rotary talk and service leadership was my favorite part of the whole camp. You think of being a leader as being authoritative and being in charge. To be a leader you have to have followers. You’re not necessarily in charge of everybody. You have to serve your followers to lead them,” Mackenzie said.

A rule students must walk outside campfire walls became another opportunity to “meet each other and communicate,” said Shyasia, who was on the red team with Mackenzie, while Morgan was assigned to the blue team.

They tossed sticks into the fire while relating one thing they learned.

“It made the flames brighter,” Mackenzie said, “symbolizing stronger leadership.”

“My symbolic thing was pushing myself,” Shyasia said, “because when I was on the rock wall I was crying. Blindfolded, when they said go right, I’d go left and fall until I got really freaked out. I wanted to come down and they encouraged me that I could do it. And I did.”

As a follow-up to watching an unreleased National Geographic program of a moose swimming underwater. “Each group had a big bucket of PVC pipe,” Morgan said, “and we had to build an underwater robot which had to go side to side and up and down underwater” retrieving rings.

“It took a long time to figure out how the remote control worked because there were four buttons,” Mackenzie added. “For someone it takes half an hour to change the windshield wipers on her car,” building an underwater robot proved daunting.

There was a fellow named Lansing from Lansing, but the eight guys were outnumbered by the 22 females and stuck to themselves, the ladies lamented.

Mackenzie was surprised to learn that not every community has a student Interact club. Dowagiac’s grew to 40 last school year.

Advisers this year will be Bryan Henry and Alicia Flores.

“It’s a great program,” she said. “I think we take it for granted.”

Vice President Matt Cripe, whose son and daughter attended RYLA camp, commended students for embracing the first step of leadership — getting engaged.