“After All It Takes, I learned that I’m really the only one that is in control of myself and my emotions, and that even in tough times in life, I can focus on finding the positive. It’s the little things – like walking down the street and saying hi to people when you look at them. That makes all the difference.”
All It Takes recently sat down to talk with alumnus Dylan Burritt, a 16 year old Junior at Newbury Park High School, to reflect on his experiences as a participant and mentor at our All It Takes Leadership camps. Dylan’s journey in social emotional learning began like many of our alumni, as a reluctant 7th grader eager to miss class for a day to go on a random field trip.
“I wanted to go because it meant getting out of class, but at the same time I wasn’t really looking forward to it, a leadership camp didn’t sound exciting.”
Dylan didn’t think too much about what was coming as he headed out on a bus full of friends to camp. It wasn’t long until he realized that this wasn’t just any field trip.
“I was definitely hesitant,” Dylan laughs. AIT leadership camps are phone free for participants, giving them the opportunity to truly connect on a deeper face-to-face level. It isn’t always pretty or easy. “The whole taking the phones away thing didn’t go over too well.”
Suddenly, it was feeling like participating in this program might not be quite as easy as he initially thought.
“I’ve been a good student my whole life, but at that point it was more of my mom causing me to be a good student. I was never interested in school, I was never one of those kids who woke up in the morning and was excited to go. I got As and Bs, but I lacked effort. I was just naturally smart, so the classes weren’t as hard.”
At camp, Dylan was practicing an entirely new set of skills, witnessing and experiencing first hand the significance of why emotional intelligence was so important. One experience that really hit home for Dylan was Grudges.
“It was the turning point for me, where my hesitation went away. I had been sort of stand-offish. I didn’t want to open up to anybody there. When we started this activity and I saw that everyone else had the same struggles I’d had, it made me feel comfortable sharing things about my life. Things I wouldn’t have shared before. I got to see myself relate to everybody else.”
On the last day of camp, the entire group gathered for one final activity, one that has stayed in Dylan’s heart ever since.
“The Touch Someone Who activity made me feel really appreciated and loved. It was a feeling I’d never really felt before. The whole environment of All It Takes was just very warm, and I felt comfortable with everybody. Going into 7th grade, I was sort of establishing myself with a new group of friends, but I wasn’t super close with them. Going to AIT and being around them every day and sharing these deeper emotions with them definitely allowed me to get closer to them much faster.”
To this day, he’s still in contact with every single one of them.
Camp was an entirely new ball game for Dylan, and he felt like he’d hit a home run. The impact that first experience had on his perspective towards school, his peers, and his family inspired Dylan to redirect the way he communicated with people, especially his parents.
“When I was younger, I had a lot of attitude towards my parents, towards the people at school. I was rebellious. Camp really just re-shaped my mindset towards the way I carried myself, and my actions towards other people. I became a lot more patient, and a lot more understanding of others. The big change was at home. Before camp I was always in trouble with my parents. I was always talking back and being disrespectful. But when I got home in the spring, the first thing that I said to my parents was that I apologize for acting the way I’d been acting. I made them a promise that I was gonna try to change. I remember later that summer, we were having a conversation when school got out. I finished that semester with straight As, and they told me that they thought All It Takes had really had a big impact on me. That’s when I got interested in coming back as a mentor.”
Dylan started volunteering as a mentor for All It Takes when he was in 10th grade. He reached out to Lori Woodley (our founder and director) and explained his experience in 7th grade, how much his attitude had changed, and how it had affected his life. “I wanted to help people who were in my situation change the way I did.” Sure enough, Dylan was there bright and early on the morning of our next camp, and was ready to make a difference. “It was super cool for me to seeing all the work going on behind the scenes, and how much work it really is.”
Dylan was most looking forward to getting to know the group of students he’d be directly mentoring throughout camp. “Just being on the other side of it… when I was a participant, my mentors had a huge impact on me personally, and I wanted to do the same thing for kids in my situation.”
Mentoring is never easy, but the rewards always justify the stress.
“You learn to be patient. You learn to be understanding. This was the first thing in my life where I really had to do things on my own, and be responsible for myself. Not only did I need to carry myself this way, I knew I had to spread that positivity to others as well. I definitely learned that even if things get really frustrating, there’s always something you can take out of it and learn from it.”
Dylan came back the following year to mentor for the Legacy Summit, which introduced an entirely new aspect to what All It Takes meant to Dylan. AIT’s Legacy Summit highlights building community across perceived boundaries, bringing students from diverse social and economic demographics together for a weekend of understanding, trust, and compassionate action.
“I really got to see what life is like outside of the area that I live in. When I came before, the kids were all from where I grew up, but going to this summit and meeting people from Portugal, meeting people from Highland, and people from places that aren’t necessarily as nice as where I live, it was really eye opening to see what these kids, who are 2/3rds my age, how difficult their lives are, it really put it into perspective on how blessed i’ve been to have the life I have.”
“The coolest part for me was seeing all of these different cultures from around the world coming together, growing together, and building these bonds. I really got to see and I definitely think it’s beneficial to meet real people from the real world.”
Both times that Dylan has mentored, he’s had a kid in his group that, throughout the camp, insisted on bringing negativity and disruption to every activity. Being a good mentor to kids who didn’t want to be mentored isn’t easy. He learned, sometimes the hard way, that “Rather than getting upset or mad at them, it was much more effective to have a heart-to-heart and guide them in the right direction.” Dylan could relate to many of his kids who weren’t fully engaged because he’d felt that way as a participant at first, so he was determined to be a solid mentor who could help these students learn what he’d learned. For one boy in particular, Dylan remembers seeing his 7th grade self in him.
“He was similar to me when I first came to camp, in a way. I would just remind him that these were opportunities to learn something new, and that we only get out of it what we put into it. Once we got to Cross the Line, I saw him open up. The next day, I could see that positive change. All the negativity he’d been bringing through the whole trip, he gave it up. It wasn’t until the end of camp that I realized how much of a difference and how much of an impact that I’d actually had on these kids. It’s really cool to feel that you’ve made a positive impact on somebody’s life.”
Dylan received the 2016 All It Takes Hooplife Award for his bravery and willingness to make such a positive change after attending camp. He even gave a speech to a full crowd in the USC gym, where All It Takes was hosting our Kailand Obasi Hooplife Fundraiser.
“It was terrifying. And it was really cool. That definitely made giving presentations and speeches easier for me now, most people don’t get the opportunity to speak in front of that many people so young.”
Throughout high school, Dylan has stayed involved as a mentor and advocate for All It Takes, but the leadership skills he’s learned have lended him plenty of other extracurricular opportunities as well. He received a sportsmanship award on his volleyball team, and was chosen as captain of his basketball team. Every year, Dylan volunteers a full week of time through his basketball team to mentor younger players at Basketball Camp.
“Because of All It Takes, I’d already been put in a position where i needed to be a leader, and I needed to lead by example, so it definitely made the new camp easier.”
Nowadays, Dylan’s passion for making a difference has transformed his life at school. He joined the Blankets for Hospice club and spends free time making blankets for those in need. Confident in his ability to jump into new environments and do what needs to be done, Dylan is also set up to serve as a Camp Counselor for his district’s upcoming Outdoor School program.
As Dylan begins to think about what life he wants to have beyond high school, he wants to ensure that he can use his leadership skills and positivity to make a lasting impact on the lives of many. He is interested in pursuing a degree in Psychology in order to provide care and support for others in a therapeutic setting. Regardless of his educational pursuits, we know that Dylan will continue to inspire and motivate others to live positive and empathetic lives.