RYLA: Empowering Tomorrow

Rotary's Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) is an award scheme designed to improve the professional skills of individuals getting ready to enter adulthood. I feel it is necessary to recount my experience with RYLA, as reflecting on pivotal moments in your life is vital for moving forward.

Rotary are known for their efforts to better the lives of our youth; Rotaract, Interact and Service Exchange may be youth programmes that come to a Rotarian's mind, but Rotary's Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) is at the heart of the Rotary's service to young people. In March 2023, thanks to the assistance and financial backing from Cleethorpes Rotary, I had the privilege of participating in RYLA. Now, I am eager to devote some of my time to raising awareness about this program.

The concept of RYLA emerged in Michigan in the '60s; Rotarians would take pride in taking entrants to rural Rotary centres for a four to six-day workshop that aims to better the leadership, confidence, and adaptability skills of all the participants, of whom would often be young boys who had been left fatherless after the Second World War.

The universal gains of a residential camp like this one are unparalleled.

Effective communication and collaboration are vital to your development as a human, whether in a collaborative work environment, within a friendship circle, or domestic setting. The attribute of 'leadership' can be applied to most interactions you would make every single day, and It's especially important to develop these skills early on in life. Regarding my camp, I and two others from the Grimsby area were chauffeured all the way to Sheffield by Rolf Sperr and Linda Crosskill, dedicated members of Cleethorpes Rotary. While it was a very early start, most of us were awake by the time we had arrived at our new place of temporary residence.

In general, the experience was quite detached from my previous life, relationships, and daily routine, with it being beside a village in Derbyshire's Hope Valley by the name of Castleton. While at first, the remote nature of the experience was very daunting, the realisation that everyone was in the same boat calmed me as I got to know people from Hornsea, Worksop, and Chesterfield.

Some of the first tasks carried out aimed to 'break the ice' between everyone. A line of chalk was drawn, and two teams were told to construct a line of objects using anything on their person, wheather that be shoes, phones, or scarves. The winning team would be the one to make the longest line across the floor of the main hall. This task was a good test of resourcefulness and it put us in embarrassing situations where we would be using ourselves, lying on the floor, to extend the line. We would also have to detangle our arms after the staff somehow rearranged our hands into a puzzling web. It forced us into uncomfortable yet hilarious twister-esque situations where tensions were certainly relieved as a result.

Throughout the 4 days of team building activities, the staff including Robbie, Alfie, Ruth, Adam and Jez managed to fit close to twenty activities into the camp. One favourite would be played on the morning of the second day: In 'Scavenger Hunt Selfie' small teams would search Castleton for objects or points of interest in the town, and upon returning to the centre, we would present selfies with the objects as evidence. We found things such as 'a hole' and the inside of a telephone box, alongside requiring problem solving skills to find 'a portrait' simply on a bank note. In this task, I was made the leader despite my tendencies to step back in team activities. I greatly appreciated how each person was given an opportunity to lead and receive private feedback from their peers. Despite the cliché, independent tasks like these also allowed us to be our own leaders and improve freedom and confidence. Being a cohort ranging from fourteen to sixteen, this is especially important for facing exams, identity, and the move to sixth form or college.

I recall quite clearly a presentation myself and my friend Marni delivered, reporting our gains from the camp to my local rotary that RYLA was an eye-opener for me, as the environment allowed me to reimagine myself. As a result of the overload of positive experiences and new friends from different backgrounds made, I was shaken by how much I missed everyone there. I retrospectively journaled the camp, to help me remember it forever.

We were also encouraged to pass down the philanthropy of Rotary by helping out at a summer camp for disadvantaged children from Sheffield aged seven to eleven. I signed up for this and attended in July of the same year. It allowed the children and staff to appreciate rural England, whether in the Treak Cliff Cavern mine, at the summit of Higger Tor, or at Matlock Farm. It was a great opportunity to practice general work and hospitality skills, therefore improving my CV! In addition, the knowledge that I, as a role model, made a positive impact on at least one other person's life is incredibly gratifying. I would advise anyone of my age to try to get involved in charity work for these reasons.