ryla Participants enjoy weekend of fellowship and learning

RYLA 2014 was a huge success. Combining great weather, super excited participants, well-trained seniors, committed Rotarians and program specific staff with an incredibly rich program designed to challenge leadership principles led to a weekend of personal development for 76 sophomores and juniors from schools around the district. Participants are organized by families of 9 or 10, with 1 or 2 senior staff and a Rotarian who acts as an advisor to the seniors and the family as requested. After a few ice-breaking games, the program began with creating a family banner designed to capture the personalities of the family and its members. Then it was time for a unique experience. Setting the tone for the weekend, Act – Lead – Inspire, was a challenge to break a pine board with your hand. During this two hour presentation, the facilitator prepared everyone, youth and adult alike, to understand the physical and mental aspects of accomplishing such a feat! Believe it or not, all 120 people in attendance achieved the goal. The excitement was amazing.

Another highlight is the Culture Walk. This is not easy to describe, but essentially the leader announces a group, male, female, athletes, from abusive families, and calls them to walk to the front of the dining hall. Then they are asked 3 questions: 1.) describe your group, 2.) Tell us something that you do not want anyone to say about you and 3.) What can those left in the audience do to support your group. This produces the expected distaste of stereotypical descriptions, but allows for open dialogue about how best to interface with those in these groups. This is extremely powerful, especially when you visually see how so many people fit into groups that are associated with physical or mental abuse, drug abuse, dysfunctional families and so many other situations that are often not caused by anyone directly, just sometimes the luck of the draw. Personally, I find this particular program very moving because these young people have been through so much in their life yet still are so committed to making other people’s lives better in every way imaginable.

Other elements covered public speaking, discussions around bullying, team projects, communications, skits and of course low and high ropes courses. Program ran from Friday at 4pm right through Sunday at 4pm with lights out at 10pm, although the energy often keeps people sharing their experiences, both before RYLA and obviously what happened during the day. These families actually become families and create friendships that may last a long time even though they are from totally different backgrounds. The RYLA experience shows that we are all more alike than different and that taking the time to understand each other pays huge dividends when a consensus is built that satisfies all involved. Lessons are learned by the staff and the adults, often taught or demonstrated by the students.

Without doubt, this is one of the best weekends of my year. It fills me with hope for the future and I encourage everyone to find some way to participate in the future.​