Nearly two dozen local high schoolers, including several from and wrapped up a leadership education camp, hosted by the on Thursday, in the first of what is hoped to be an annual event.
Twenty-three students participated in a variety of classroom lectures, interactive trainings, service projects, and guest speakers in the four-day camp.
“Overall, I think it went amazingly well. There was a lot of preparation from my staff over the last six months and I think it paid off.,” said La Mesa Police Chief Ed Aceves. “Our staff has really put them through a number of exercises throughout the week to really get them thinking about leadership… They learned it’s not just about ‘hey let’s charge forward and go conquer this,’ it’s about dealing with people and communicating, so I was really impressed.”
In addition to the classroom courses, the campers volunteered at St. Madeline’s center for the developmentally disabled, the San Diego Center for the Blind, participated in a graffiti paint out, and helped do yard work and cleaned alleys for elderly people in La Mesa.
“One of my favorite parts was being able to go to St. Madeline’s and the Blind Center and seeing people who aren’t like us,” said Skylar Youngblood, 16. “They wake up and they can’t see or they can’t get out of bed and go get a cup of coffee. It was really neat to go and be able to see these people have just such a positive outlook on life, and to be able to overcome their obstacles and do amazing things.”
The group was also able to see demonstrations from the police department’s K-9 attack dogs and narcotics dogs. They participated in SWAT training at Helix High School, drove in the police pursuit simulator at the police academy, and went kayaking in Mission Bay.
In what was largely viewed as the favorite activity to many, they climbed Cowles Mountain in an inspiring, team building, motivation hike.
“On Cowles Mountain, I think that’s when we saw the biggest example of motivation,” said Steven Alamillo, 16. “There’s someone on the mountain who said 15 times, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not gonna be able to make it.’ He didn’t believe he could do it, but everyone else kept pushing him and believing in him. And eventually, he started to believe in himself, and he made it up.”
Tyler Zink, 16, said that the hardest thing he had to do all week was actually getting down the mountain, because “there’s a lot of slippery rocks and you could fall easily.”
Aceves said that the camp was the brainchild of Capt. Dan Willis, who worked with staff for months in deciding the variety of activities that the kids would participate in. But an important goal of the curriculum was “to give them a little insight on what police work is all about, so that they have a little more respect, and understand that they see them as people, and not just a badge and a uniform,” he said.
In addition, the kids were able to hear from guest speakers – all of whom are heroes in their own right: 53rd District congressional candidate and Iraq War veteran Nick “Gunny Pop” Popaditch, Naval commander Nick LaBruzzo, and San Diego lifeguard Daryl McDonald.
Zink said that hearing those speakers inspired him and taught him a lot.
“[I learned] mostly about how you push past your limits if you want to be successful,” he said. “You’ve got to get through the hard parts and you’ll be successful in life because you’ve already gone through adversity.”
Many of the students said that the week got more fun as it went on, and that the camp is definitely something they want to do next year.
“This camp has really given us all a piece of our own spirit to take away and give to others, and it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had,” said Youngblood.
“My hope is that we left them with one thing that as they grow up and as they continue to get older and mature and are faced with adversity, that they remember something they learned here,” said Aveces. “I think each of them will probably take something different.”
The camp was made possible by more than $2,500 in donations from Carl Burger Dodge, the La Mesa Rotary Club, EDCO and the San Diego Chargers.
The list of camp participants is below:
Josh Evangelist, 16, Hilltop HS
Edmond Edwards, 15, Madison HS
Nathan Hagen, 15, Valhalla HS
Chase Padilla, 16, Valhalla HS
Riley Padilla, 15, Valhalla HS
Michael Boner, 17, Helix HS
Serenity Green, 16, Helix HS
Matthew Murray, 15, Valhalla HS
Aaron Colera, 15, Helix HS
Celeste Osuna, 17, Helix HS
Tyler Zink, 16, Helix HS
Kailey Fox, 15, Helix HS
Steven Alamillo, 16, Valhalla HS
Skyler Youngblood, 16, Grossmont HS
Jacob Rothrock, 16, Grossmont HS
James Rothrock, 16, Grossmont HS
Victoria Ochoa, 15, Helix HS
Senka Lorja, 16, Helix HS
Lydia Insunza, 16, Helix HS
Justice Davis, 17, Grossmont HS
Ean Hendrickson, 16, Valhalla HS
Austin Lolli, 17, Valhalla HS
Trenton Castro, 15, Valhalla HS