RYLA 2017 - The secrets' out


Jessica Roberts RYLA Director 2017, December 2017

The Rotary Youth Leadership Award (or RYLA) for 2017 has finished up, and we couldn’t be happier with the results. Thanks to the generous sponsorships of Rotary Clubs in District 9800, we were able to offer the RYLA experience to 49 people aged 18 to 25, and would love to tell you more about it! The first rule of RYLA? You do not talk about RYLA! The second rule? Well… you get the picture.

But why all the secrecy? Surely it would be much easier to recruit new applicants (and certainly easier to write this article!) if I could take you through each brilliant day of the “week-long, residential leadership and personal development program” that is RYLA. A year’s worth of planning goes into each program. Each day is jam-packed with activities designed and tailored to the participants’ journeys. Unfortunately – and quite deliberately – we keep the day-to-day activities top secret before the camp, and our participants are grateful for it (although, sometimes only after the fact). Along with their sleeping bag, all participants need to pack an open mind. We are not a didactic leadership program, and we want to ensure our RYLArians are open to whatever exciting opportunities they come across during the week.

We know that this makes attending RYLA a daunting challenge, and asks for a leap of faith from our sponsoring Rotary Clubs. However, we also know that starting the week without expectations goes a long way to helping us create the environment of growth and learning we are striving for.

So, what can I tell you about the Rotary Youth Leadership Award?

Well, we wrapped up our 2017 program, and are already looking ahead to the next one! From all accounts, this year was a huge success, with 49 young people heading back into their communities right now with new tools in their leadership toolbox, ready to connect with their generous sponsoring Rotary Clubs.

RYLA is one of the nine major youth programs run by Rotary. RYLA is for 18 to 25-year-olds, making it one of the few structured leadership development opportunities available to this age group. The RYLA of District 9800 is also unique in that it is the only RYLA program that is run completely by young people who have all been past participants of its program. Our dedicated leadership team embody the Rotary values of service above self and giving back to the community. Having all been positively changed by our time as RYLA participants, we are eager and privileged to be able to pay it forward to the next generation of participants each year.

I can also tell you about the four pillars of RYLA: Community, Diversity, Reflection, and Challenge by Choice. The participants and volunteer leaders on RYLA 2017 formed their own community for a week – and an incredibly diverse one at that! With so many different backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives, it was bound to be an eye-opening week for all involved. Feedback every year is that participants are so grateful for the opportunity to meet such a wide range of young leaders that they would never have met in their day-to-day lives, and this year was no exception.


In our busy lives, the RYLA program offers a rare opportunity for reflection, one that is rarer still for young people to take. We apply a ‘no phones on camp’ policy, which can sometimes be met with some resistance, but after a few days our participants are glad for the break from the screens. Participants will often report that the reflective space created at RYLA allowed them to learn more about themselves, the world around them, and their place within it. We think it’s incredibly special to be able to help enable these paradigm shifts within the young leaders who will inevitably shape our future.

Challenge by Choice is something we emphasise in everything we do at RYLA, as we give our participants (and volunteer team members) the opportunities to ‘Walk the Walk’ of personal and community leadership (not just ‘Talking the Talk’). The opportunities are both structured and unstructured, and the learning is constant, nuanced, and collaborative.

It is frustrating not to be able to go on for pages and pages, detailing the incredible program we design for our participants. But even if I did, it still would not come close to explaining what each of our brave participants takes away from RYLA on an individual level. If you are lucky enough to meet one of these inspiring young people at a Rotary meeting, ask them – what did they get out of the program? For many RYLArians, the program has an impact greater than just the week itself. RYLA is a catalyst for growth; a pebble thrown into a pond, causing wide-reaching ripples that will be felt for years to come.

One thing I can say with certainty - RYLA is different to any other leadership camp out there.

Applications for next year’s program will open mid-2018, and you can head to our website at www.ryla9800.org.au for more information.

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