This month I had the pleasure of being a senior counselor at RYLA, the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, for Rotary District 7710. RYLA, which takes place all over the world, is a leadership conference for high school students that Rotary identifies as strong potential leaders. Each district plans the curriculum for and organizes the conference however it best deems fit. I visited our RYLA, which takes place at Camp Oak Hill, about an hour away from Durham near the Virginia border, last year, but this was my first year as a counselor staying overnight for the whole weekend.
The RYLA kids aren’t told anything about how the conference works ahead of time, intentionally, and efforts are taken to separate kids from the same high school in bunks or groups they participate in. Many of the kids coming don’t know a single person there. Some of them are nervous about this, not realizing that almost everyone is in the same boat. Because of this, I won’t go into too much detail about the activities that they all participate in over the weekend, but I will tell you it’s a very hands-on experience. They don’t spend all weekend sitting in classrooms listening to lectures on leadership. Instead, they spend the time doing things meant to push them outside their comfort zones, how to support teammates, work in groups of people they don’t know well (or at all) to achieve tasks — they learn how to be leaders, and how leadership
can look different than what they thought when they came in.
One of the most special parts about RYLA is that most of the activities are lead by previous RYLA participants (from just one year prior!), peer counselors. As senior staff counselors, we’re really just there as backups, and get to see how these kids bond and support each other, lead and grow — it’s truly inspiring. At the end of each RYLA, we ask the kids who attended if they want to come back as peer counselors for the following year, and this year, 75% of the kids want to come back next year to help the year behind them.
RYLA is entirely paid for by Rotary clubs, costing about $325 per student, so it doesn’t cost the attendees anything at all. Below are some pictures from the weekend. I hope it inspires you to think about becoming more involved in RYLA.