Posted by Linda Kramer
RYLA builds motivated leaders
“This was the best week of my summer and possibly my life,” RYLA camper Mikala Minerd told Berea Rotarians on Tuesday, July 9. “It was life-changing. I quickly learned what it means to be a good leader.”
Mikala, a senior at Berea-Midpark High School, and John Munoz, a senior at Olmsted Falls High School, were sponsored by Berea Rotary at the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards camp on the campus of Baldwin Wallace University in June.
Mikala said she learned that “leaders know when to step up and when to step back.” She said she also learned that other people may live different lives. “Some could be targets for harassment, for example. Leaders cannot forget about those who are struggling,” she said.
“It only takes small things to make a difference – a smile, a hug. I learned I can make a difference. It inspired me.”
John described RYLA as “an experience like no other.” He said it was the first camp he’d ever been to where he didn’t know anyone. But he connected almost immediately. One fellow camper and he still talk almost daily.
He said he was impressed by the diversity of campers. “We were different but we were like a family,” he said.
John was impressed by the team concept. “It taught me patience,” he said. “I learned I don’t have to know everything and neither does anyone else. It really does take a village to get things done.”
“I learned that you don’t need to be perfect. Let things go.”
Mikala is a member of National Honor Society, National Technical Honor Society and Model UN. She plans to become a teacher.
John is interested in joining the military. At school he is on the swim team and is active with Drama Club.
Both students were invited to stay in touch and to visit Berea Rotary in the future.
Rotarians help dedicate Student Veterans Center
The Berea Rotary Foundation donated $5,000 to furnish Baldwin Wallace University’s new Student Veterans Center and on July 5, we were invited to the official dedication.
The center is housed in a totally rehabbed former vacant home on E. Grand St., behind Strosacker Hall. The project was an All-Star Legacy initiative by Major League Baseball and the Cleveland Indians as part of All-Star Weekend. The All-Star Game was played in Cleveland on July 9.
Berea Rotarians tour the new BW Student Veterans Center. From the left, Judy Stull, Bob Hammer, Bob Huge, Jim Slater and Linda Kramer. Judy is pointing to the Rotary logo on the sponsors wall.
The house features quiet areas for study, a full kitchen, a patio out back and small garden. The house is handicapped accessible. It is meant to be a place for veterans to meet and talk with fellow vets and to help with that often difficult transition from military to civilian life. BW has about 100 student veterans.
Cutting the ribbon officially opening the Student Vet Center is Navy veteran Brittany Davis,
president of the BW Student Veterans Association.
Michele Blazina of Court Appointed Special Advocates.
Volunteers stand up for abused kids
Almost 3,000 children in Cuyahoga County are in custody – either in foster care or other facilities because of violence or neglect at home. Another 751 are at home but under protective supervison.
Social worker Michele Blazina and volunteer Kevin O’Boyle told Berea Rotarians about the CASA program to help these children and their families. CASA (court appointed special advocates) are volunteers who advocate for kids as they and their families deal with the court system. CASA is one part of Child and Family Advocates of Cuyahoga County. CASA plus guardians ad litem (GAL) look after the best interests of children in crisis. Guardians ad litem are attorneys appointed by the court. Their main concern is a child’s legal status. They meet with the child and perhaps the family once or twice.  Social workers handle dozens of cases and are often switched among clients every few months. A CASA volunteer fills a much-needed gap among the GALs, social workers and the court. CASA volunteers get to know the child, their circumstances and their needs, spending perhaps 10-12 hours a month at first with home visits, court hearings, and reports to the judge. CASA volunteers are “everyday folks,” Blazina said. They are teachers, truck drivers, businessmen and women or like O’Boyle, retired UPS drivers. Volunteers are trained and supervised while they handle one or two cases at a time.
Blazina said CASA is a nation-wide program founded in 1977. It didn’t come to Cleveland until 2016 with major help from O’Boyle. O’Boyle said he first trained as a volunteer in Chicago. When he moved to Ohio, he was surprised this area didn’t have a CASA program. Instead, he volunteered with the Akron CASA, which was started 40 years ago. The long drive prompted him to push for a Cuyahoga County chapter.
CASA is actually a 501c3 non-profit. There are only five states in the U.S. that don’t fund CASA. Ohio is one of them. Fortunately, O’Boyle said, Gov. Mike DeWine is pushing to change that.
Last year, 270,000 children were seen by 94,000 CASA volunteers through 1,000 CASA programs nationwide. In Cuyahoga County, 81 volunteers worked with 441 children.
“We need more volunteers, especially men and people of color,” Blazina said. “We are relatively new so we are trying to get the word out.”
O’Boyle has been a volunteer for nine years. “At the end of the day, I asked myself have I made a difference,” O’Boyle said. “This is the most satisfying thing I’ve done in my life outside of raising five kids.”