By Mary-Justine Lanyon
The plan was for Rotary District 5330 to hold two RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) camps this year, one in March and one in April. The blizzard of 2023 led to the cancellation of the first camp.
Fifteen juniors from Rim of the World High School and the Lake Arrowhead Christian School attended the April camp, which was held at Thousand Pines camp in Crestline. The three-day leadership program is the largest overnight RYLA program in the Rotary world.
Michelle French, president of the Mountain Sunrise Rotary Club, and I had the opportunity to visit RYLA on Saturday, April 15. We heard motivational speaker Scott Greenberg tell the students that “you are already strong and powerful.” But, he said, “we think and believe the things that hold us down.” He calls those our “sandbags.”
There is the mental heckler – that voice inside your head that critiques you. There is what he calls appearance interference. “We worry so much about how we look, how other people perceive us. Don’t worry about what others think.” And there is the sandbag of comparison. “The problem with comparing is we don’t know the other person’s whole story.
“Cut loose your sandbags,” Greenberg told the RYLArians. “I promise you failure and so much more success.”
We also watched the campers participate in several team-building exercises: seven or eight juniors traversing a field while moving on two long planks and team members dropping their eggs from a balcony to see if the housing they created will protect the egg (two survived).
Three campers spoke to members of the Mountain Sunrise Rotary Club about their experiences. Evelyn Griggs, Jocelyn Broderick and Brianna Nikas all felt the team-building exercises tested their communication skills and helped them bond with the other students. Each was assigned to a team with students they had never met before.
RYLA was completely different from what Brianna had expected. “It was not like summer camp,” she said. Evelyn said she felt her leadership skills had been improved. And Jocelyn noted she had not expected to share and connect with total strangers but she did, feeling safe and welcomed.
The campers sponsored by the Crestline-Lake Gregory Rotary Club had planned to attend the May 4 meeting but a surprise spring snowstorm made that impossible. Three of them sent their thoughts on the experience to the club.
“RYLA was an extremely rewarding experience,” wrote Jordan DiFranco. “In the three days I was there I made so many new friends that I connected with very deeply and am still in contact with.
“All of the activities challenged us as leaders,” Jordan wrote, “and forced us to effectively work as a team. I am very grateful for the opportunity as I learned so many skills that I now use every day.” She also pointed to the speakers as having been inspirational.
“I will most definitely remember the RYLA weekend for the rest of my life and I would recommend all future juniors to apply for it.”
Ethan Thornberg wrote that, before arriving at RYLA, “I had little to no grasp of what it would be about. I wasn’t too excited.” However, after the first group discussion, Ethan’s indifference to the camp “withered away, replaced with enthusiasm.
“These people, who were absolute strangers to me, were willing to share their deepest thoughts and stories despite just meeting me. This inspired me to open up as well and they guided me to a better understanding of myself and…others.”
The alumni – students who had attended RYLA the previous year and help plan the next camp – “made the experience all the more personal. They shared their enthusiasm through chants, personal talks and exciting activities.”
“RYLA was an amazing experience for me,” wrote Katharine Bouchard. “I went thinking that it would be just a fun summer camp type of thing but it was so much more than that! I learned new things about myself and connected with new people I now consider to be my good friends.
“The team bonding activities and personal conversations within our groups not only helped bring us closer together but taught us to see value in ourselves and those around us. The whole experience has helped me to have a more positive outlook on my life. It’s not always about achieving some goal and stressing yourself out about the future.
“It’s important to enjoy everything that I have now because I am truly fortunate for everything and everyone that is a part of my life. I am hoping to come back as an alumni to experience RYLA again!”