Saganitso and Koehn attend RYLA leadership conference

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Sonrae Saganitso and Kaitlyn Koehn attended the RYLA leadership conference at Grinnell College, Grinnell. The Guttenberg Rotary sponsored the two students for the six-day camp. From left are Linda Nudd, Assistant Governor of Rotary District 5970, Kaitlyn Koehn, Karilyn McArthur, Sunrae Saganitso and Barry Nudd. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Clayton Ridge High School students Kaitlyn Koehn and Sonrae "Rae" Saganitso were honored to attend this year's RYLA leadership workshop. The week-long conference was held from July 14-19 at Grinnell College in Grinnell, and their attendance was sponsored by Guttenberg's Rotary Club.    

RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) is a life-changing leadership training program for youth. Participants gain leadership skills and principles that are taught in an atmosphere of trust and respect.  The purpose of RYLA is to assist potential youth leaders in methods of responsible and effective leadership. During the week-long program participants also develop confidence and self-esteem. 

Sonrae is the daughter of Sonny and Andrew Wilson of Garnavillo. She is a senior this year, and has been involved in track, FFA, softball and cheerleading.

Kaitlyn, daughter of Melissa and Trevor Koehn, a junior this year, is involved in volleyball, drill team, track, show choir and student senate.  In addition to her extracurricular school activities, she also teaches Sunday school at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Guttenberg. 

The high school students were able to experience life on a college campus as they learned leadership skills from their peers. Koehn commented, "It was fun. We participated in a wide variety of interactive activities that focused on developing our leadership skills. We were often taken out of our comfort zone during the process." 

Both girls enjoyed their week of independence, cafeteria food, and meeting and engaging with over 200 students from across the state. 

The students were inspired to attend the program after a former Clayton Ridge student presented a program on her experience.  "Mrs. Hansel and our parents encouraged us to attend the leadership camp. Mrs. Hansel helped us with the paperwork and final details," they shared.  

Saganitso told The Press, "I learned so many positive communication skills during the conference. All the students and counselors were so honest and open. It was a very supportive, non-judgemental environment. There were so many unique personalties."

Word of Focus

Both attendees enjoyed WOF (Word of Focus), a sharing portion of the leadership program. Koehn commented, "The group leaders would come up with a word that meant something to them, and they would get up and share their personal story. It was incredibly raw. Nothing was held back. It was a very powerful moment." Saganitso added, "They spoke about hardships they had to overcome, and the tools they used to get back on track and stay focused. It was very inspiring." Saganitso went on to say, "I would like to give a shout out to my team. They were very supportive; I couldn’t have asked for a better group. They really helped me out of my comfort zone."

"The counselors did an excellent job of making sure everyone at the conference was engaged in the program. There was no exclusion. Everyone felt welcomed," said Saganitso. 

Participants in the RYLA program received a debriefing at the end of each break-out session and a final debriefing at the end of the day. "It was so well organized and fun. We learned so much. It was nice to go over the topics after each session and again at the end of the day. It really brought everything together," Koehn noted. 

Participants at the week-long event had to give up their cellphones and electronic devices. Saganitso explained, "We could use our phones twice a day to call our parents if we needed to. We were unaware of time. We were encouraged to stay present in the moment.  They called it our vacation from the real world." 

Koehn commented, "The experience made me realize, I can go to college and I will be okay."  

Saganitso has used her leadership skills on the job. "I work with small children. It has been fun to use the skills I have learned to help them solve problems that arise," she shared. 

Additional information about RYLA can be found at

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