Opinion: Feeling the RYLA magic


Feature Photo By: Eric Huynh– Conferees and the RYLA staff enjoy the view after hiking up Eagles Point, located near the YMCA of the Rockies. Juniors/Seniors from Northern Colorado, Wyoming, Eastern Idaho, and Western Nebraska come to Estes Park to participate in a one-time opportunity leadership program. 

By: Eric Huynh, Review Staff

I experienced a long and intense roller coaster of emotions, from all my nerves stirring up to feeling fortunate for having a second family…

Last summer, I had the pleasure of attending a week-long leadership camp called RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Camp) at YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. This program was made to bring young adults like me who want to develop their leadership skills, to have a positive impact on their community, want to meet with other teens from different schools, and who want to create new friendships.

RYLA is hosted internationally, organized by local Rotary clubs (they pay for the cost of your stay), and ran by selected junior counselors, senior counselors, and staff.

Conferees watching their egg structures being launched by a catapult. “No math class or science summer class teaches you self confidence or how to figure out who you are,” said Sabrina Reinwald, a RYLA conferee. “RYLA lets people be themselves and is about growing you as a person; it’s about changing each other and the world into a better place.” (Courtesy of RYLA’s Photographer, Keturah Jones)

Going to a leadership camp was one of the most nerve-wracking things this summer; once my application got accepted by my local Rotary club, I immediately had second thoughts.

From my perspective, I’m usually a timid person from the outside but I can be a completely different person once you actually get to know me.

It was hard to believe that there’s a place where I can fully be myself and connect with others that I’ve never met in my entire life; in our generation, people can be very hypercritical. But there are other fellow conferees that can back up what I’m saying:

“When I arrived, I was shaking with excitement and definitely a lot of nervousness too. I was surrounded by strangers, in a place I didn’t recognize, and asked to do tasks I didn’t understand,” said Anna Tomlinson, a fellow conferee at RYLA. “But this place was filled with a feeling I didn’t recognize.”

RYLA was really an experience of a lifetime and that says a lot.

First off, the junior and senior counselors along with the staff there planned out our weekend so well and organized so that we could have the best time possible. Plus, the counselors showed so much enthusiasm and loving traits in order to display that they care about the quality of being yourself.

“Being a JC was absolutely amazing. It was so rewarding getting to see everyone grow and be on the other side,” said Brooke Pierzchala, a 2nd-year junior counselor. “It is a long and tiring week but so worth it.”

And you may ask yourself: what makes RYLA so different from other summer camps?

Well, RYLA, not only, teaches you what kind of leader you can be and what you can do when you go back home, but it’s a support system that you will have for your entire life. Meaning you will always have people to talk to, whether it’s about how your day was or needing someone to lean on.

They want to help you find your dreams; they want to let you know that you belong; they want you to know that it’s okay to make mistakes along the way.

Through the challenging team activities, inspiring speeches, and heartfelt emotions, it not only brought out the “leader” I could be — that I never thought I had the potential of being — but I was also able to bond closely to people that I just met in a span of 5 days.

Within those 5 days, everyone spent their time in tears, being mad at others, and most of the time, it was a little uncomfortable. But that’s what everyone goes through in relationships. I mean, that’s pretty crazy when I compared it to the close friends/family members I’ve known for my entire/most of my life.

As an entire camp, we were able to create one big family.

“RYLA is very different and more deep in like how to help lead others and contribute in society,” said Nick Green, a fellow conferee. “The ‘We’re All In This Together’ activity was really cool cause it showed a lot of people go through the same problems and you don’t get to experience stuff like that at other summer camps.”

We’re All In This Together involved the entire camp; the Head JCs read a series of statements, and if those statements applied to you, you would come stand on a stage and a few were asked three questions:

  1. What do you want people to know about you?
  2. What do you never want said about you?
  3. How can other people support you?

The activity exhibited that there are a lot more people than I thought relating to the same problems I may have — ranging from bullying to relationship issues — and that you’re not alone when taking on a problem head-on.

I would encourage any soon-to-be sophomores and juniors to participate in RYLA because I believe that it will change people’s perspective on life in a positive way, even if you are going through rough times or are an introverted person. If you don’t believe me, take the words of other RYLA participants on Youtube.

Simon Berhe and the rest of Interact Club do a trash pickup around Rangeview. “I like helping others, but to give, you have to have something to give,” said Danielle Ramos Tovar, the president of the Interact Club. “Since I’m not rich yet, I only give my time.” Interact Club meets every Monday after school in room 245C in the Social Studies Department. (Eric Huynh)

Not only that, but I believe that Rotary is an amazing nonprofit organization that advocates for community service and friendship. With more than 35,000 other Rotary clubs and 1.2 million+ club members worldwide, there are many Rotarians who believe in what Rotary stands for.

Through their motto, “Service Above Self,” it shows that they care about providing service to others and want to create everlasting change in ourselves, in our communities, and in the world.

“Yes! I think it [getting involved with Rotary]  is a great way to learn tools to be the best version of yourself,” said Vivian Zheng, another conferee.

Get involved with Rotary through their programs and join Interact (ages 12-18) or Rotaract (ages 18-30) clubs.

If you are interested and want to get information on how to get involved, learn more about Rotary, or learn about their mission, visit https://www.rotary.org/en

Show the best version of yourself while leading and serving others.