Rousing Retreat: Rotarians seek applicants for annual youth leadership conference

By Pat Sherman

Each year as many as 300 high school juniors from across the county ascend to the quiescent mountain town of Idyllwild to receive a mountain of inspiration and empowerment.

During the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards conference, April 20-22, teens (including 14 from La Jolla) will take part in exercises geared to instill leadership and team-building skills. The weekend includes speakers from leading corporations, as well as the sports and entertainment industry.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of corporate leadership type of events in my professional career and I’ve never had anything that’s even remotely close to this in terms of how fun and inspiring it is,” said La Jolla Rotary Club member Cal Mann, a marketing consultant and advisor to Rotary’s student Interact Clubs at La Jolla High School and the Bishop’s School.

“There’s a lot of getting kids outside their comfort zone and putting them in circumstances they’re maybe not used to and kind of learning how they react to it,” Mann said. “It’s particularly good for kids who are coming to the end of their junior year. They’re really starting to look squarely at adulthood and get a bit of a vision for their own life.”

Mann said he expects anywhere from 35 to 45 La Jolla students to apply, though only 14 will be selected to attend the conference.

To apply, students must maintain a grade point average of no less than 2.5, fill out an online application, write a leadership essay, and interview with Rotary members.

Of the 300 students who attend the conference, 10 are offered a chance to return as seniors, serving as alumni organizers. This year, two students from La Jolla High will be returning to help with the conference.

“The alumni group helps organize a lot of the activities and events for the coming year’s conference,” Mann said. “Starting in January, they commit to four or five hours of meeting time per week. It’s a pretty big commitment, and a pretty select group of kids.”

La Jolla High School Senior Nicole Miller will be among that select group.

“After the three-day camp I knew I have what it takes to be a leader,” said Nicole, 17. “It was an eye-opening experience. You’re able to sympathize with people and see yourself in a whole new light.”

La Jolla Interact Club members — among more than 250,000 worldwide — are involved in community service projects throughout the year. Most recently, La Jolla Interact members helped amass 2,700 pounds of food to be distributed to North County families in need. In November, Interact students, parents and Rotarians spent the day in Tijuana helping build a small home for a family of eight.

“They get to see in a firsthand way the real face of poverty,” Mann said. “It helps them understand that other people living close by have real challenges just having food, something that many of them just take for granted.”

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