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Interact Club for youth revived by Rotarians

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Shining examples: Capri Wilson and Davonte Woodton (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A popular club for young people is back in business after a hiatus of decades.

The Interact Club, a service and teamwork group forged by a team effort of local Rotarians, has more than 30 of Bermuda’s students between the ages of 12 and 18.

“It’s a leadership and character-building organisation, but the bottom line is it’s fun,” Cathy Bassett of the Hamilton Rotary Club said.

Members from all four of Bermuda’s Rotary Clubs have been brought closer together in the bid to revive the group and mentor young people.

They have also been meeting older “Interacters” from 40 years ago, when the club nurtured prominent Bermudians across the Island.

The Island’s Rotarians chipped in to bring 17-year-old Davonte Woodton to the Island this week from the Rotary Interact Club at Peekskill High School, New York, to tell students about his time with the organisation.

“It’s a great way to teach high school students to lead and open up their views,” said Davonte, who was president of the club for his junior year.

Particularly eye-opening was his attendance at the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, or Ryla. Mr Woodton found himself among 50 young people thrown together in a conference room for a profound guided experience of learning about each other and themselves.

Activities at Ryla include the Culture Walk.

“That’s a really life changing experience — it’s a way to get to know people without knowing them,” Davonte said.

The Culture Walk is a barrier-breaking and empowering game based on stepping forward in response to tough questions, such as have you or someone in your family been abused or gone to jail? Have you ever experienced mental illness?

Students learnt to open up and respect one another’s common humanity. They also saw how deceiving it was to make assumptions based on a casual look at another person.

“In my third year I was invited back to my second Ryla as a facilitator,” Davonte said. “That was totally different; they needed to get their own experience and it was my job to get it so that they could learn everything I learnt.”

His capable handling of Ryla caught the eye of visiting Rotarians from Bermuda.

The Island’s clubs decided they needed to bring him here as a testament to what the Interact Club can achieve.

Ms Bassett had attended a Rotary conference at the United Nations in New York last November and found herself drawn to the Interact room, where sounds of music and dance emanated.

She was inspired to revive Bermuda’s branch of the club by seeing articulate, relaxed and personable teenagers who had learnt not just how to speak at ease before a crowd, but to enjoy themselves.

“I walked out of there a changed person,” she enthused.

Rotarians decided to bring back Bermuda’s Interact Club — and at least 34 students obliged by signing up from every school on the Island, public and private.

At a talk on Thursday night at the Department of Youth and Sports, prospective club members also heard from 24-year-old Capri Wilson, recently the Commencement Day speaker for CedarBridge Academy, whose life was also changed by her experiences with the Rotary Club.

“I was chosen as a Rotary Exchange student in 2008 to go to Bahia, Brazil, for a total of 11 months,” Ms Wilson said. “The experience was simply amazing. That eye-opener helped me get into the workforce, appreciate the small things — it truly changed my life. I was able to see different levels of life, different school systems, cultures, the different ways people react.”

She stayed with a host family whose well-appointed home adjoined a favela slum, offering a vantage on to worlds both high and low that were beyond anything she had experienced in Bermuda.

Now studying to teach elementary school, Ms Wilson said her Rotary participation “really helped develop me as a young person”.

Davonte Woodton, 17, from the Rotary Interact Club at Peekskill High School, New York, visited Bermuda to tell students about his time with the organisation (Photograph by Akil Simmons)