By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Westborough – The Rotary Club of Westborough continued its longtime tradition of offering Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) to rising 11th-graders. Over 170 recipients, known as RYLAns, from Rotary District 7910 attended this year's weekend of workshops from June 27 to 29 at Worcester State University. Westborough Rotarians sponsored five local RYLAns: Riley Gardner, Jon Gross, Matt Pickering, Molly Reilly and Michala Sockol.
Effective public speaking was one lesson they developed that weekend. At the Westborough Rotarians” Aug. 6 meeting at The Chateau, those skills were displayed in a question-and-answer exchange with two of the RYLAns, Riley and Molly.
“We got to learn about ourselves and leadership qualities,” Riley shared. “Communication is the most important. We learned to work together and communicate with other people in a group.”
For the weekend's first workshop, groups of students were given newspapers and masking tape with instructions to build a bridge tall enough so that a can of paint would fit underneath. Another paint can was placed on top of each bridge to test its sturdiness. This exercise was done nonverbally.
“Without speaking, it was really tough to communicate with people who we just met about 10 minutes ago,” Riley acknowledged. “But we worked it out.”
Molly added, “It didn's even look like a bridge, but it was a great way to start the weekend.”
Riley and Molly both appreciated a guest speaker who conducted an exercise to help overcome barriers.
“On one side of a board you wrote your obstacles and on the other side you wrote your goals,” Riley explained. “At the end, we were able to break the board with our hand and it was really empowering.”
They also learned the values of teamwork and community service with the nonprofit Stop Hunger Now.
“We worked at different stations and packaged over 10,000 meals extremely fast,” Molly relayed. “That was really powerful how we were able to work together in such a short amount of time.”
RYLAns got a better understanding of the Rotary's primary motto: “Service above Self.”
“It's all about selflessness and doing things for other people in your community,” Molly said. “We'se fortunate to have a lot of resources when other people don's.”
Students who have completed the RYLA weekend can apply the following year as a group facilitator. Those chosen are trained for several weekends in the winter and spring. This year, Westborough Rotarians selected two group facilitators, Marissa Moquin and Carlos Santom.
Among the Rotarians who volunteered to help with the weekend activities was Betsy Moquin, who considers rising 11-graders an ideal age for RYLA.
“They'se finding their niche in high school and they'se involved in whatever activities suit them best,” she said. “They'se at a point that they want to become the leader of a club or the captain of a team. They'se looking to develop and polish those skills that will take them to the next level.”
RYLAns can use these skills throughout their next few years, Moquin noted.
“They'se starting to get ready to meet with college admission councilors,” she said. “They'se being interviewed for potential scholarships to pay for their education. After they'se done with school, they can put these skills to good use when they start to enter the workforce.”
Molly and Riley are considering to apply as group facilitator next year. Likewise, Moquin is looking forward to volunteering again for the RYLA weekend.
“I like being a part of any activity that allows us to invest in that generation,” she said. “That's what this weekend is all about.”
For more information about the Rotary Club of Westborough, visit www.westboroughrotary.org.