HAMMONTON – There’s a little-known free program that accepts applications from all Hammonton area high school juniors, gives students a head start on their college experience, and might even lead to an internship with a state senator for the right kind of enterprising student.
It’s called RYLA, and every summer the Hammonton Rotary Club sponsors several local students to attend – at no cost to the student.This year the 38th annual Rotary Youth Leadership Awards conference took place June 25-29 on the campus of Stockton University in Galloway.
The leadership development program, run by the Rotary Clubs of southern New Jersey (District 7640), is offered to more than 150 high school juniors entering their senior year in September. It’s a five-day, four-night leadership retreat and includes presentations, activities, and workshops on leadership and ethics, communication skills, problem solving and conflict management, community and global citizenship and more.
On Monday, Aug. 14, three of the four students, all age 17, which the Hammonton Rotary Club sponsored to attend the 2017 conference, were guests at the club’s weekly meeting at Rocco’s Townhouse.
Alyssa Amos of Erial, who attends St. Joseph High School, said she enjoyed the diverse lineup of engaging speakers. An aspiring lawyer, she said the college career night programs gave her an opportunity to make connections with attorneys already working in the field, and the guest speakers weren’t afraid to address thought-provoking topics.
Mitchell Asante of Vineland, who also attends St. Joseph and also wants to be a lawyer, said not only did he have fun, but the experience led to a great opportunity.
Asante, who is interested in politics and student government, and was his junior class president, was able to land an internship with state Sen Jeff Van Drew, who serves Cape May and Cumberland counties, through the connections he made at RYLA.
Meredith Lambertino of Hammonton, a student at Sterling High School in Somerdale, said she really appreciated the speakers, especially the discussions about college planning.
“They discussed the little things that you don’t hear about college, especially the financial aid part of it,” Lambertino said.
Tevya Paretti of Hammonton, a student at Hammonton High School, was unable to attend Aug. 14, but submitted this comment:
“RYLA has demonstrated to me the value of being driven and determined and having the fortitude to follow my dreams. The leadership skills I have learned throughout the duration of the conference will most certainly translate into helping me reach and prepare for my career goals in the future.”
She also received a special award at the conference for “Doing More Than Expected.”
Asante summed up his conference experience this way.
“We had so much fun, we stayed up so late. It felt like we’d been together forever. It was a great experience. RYLA exceeded my expectations.”
He said it felt like he was in college.
So how does a student participate?
Each winter the Hammonton Rotary Club and local high school guidance offices announce an application process for students interested in participating. Applications will be available at http://www.hammontonrotary.org in February. It is an open process that seeks students that are a good fit for the program, and is not based on GPA.
To learn more, like the Hammonton Rotary Club’s Facebook page.