For the past five days I have been at RYLA, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards. This is my fourth and final year going, it was extraordinarily bittersweet. RYLA is a five day long leadership skill building camp. Some of the activities we do include canoeing, archery, speaking sessions, the walk of courage, a rope course, and tons of energizers and games. Considering this was my fourth year, I had a bit of a different experience, I was the one and only senior team leader. As a freshmen I was a camper and sophomore and junior year I was a team leader. My junior year I was asked if I’d be interested in being the senior team leader. After thinking about it, I put on my bravery hat and said “why not!”
RYLA is life changing, to say the least. I never thought it would change me as much as it did. I grew as a person and as a leader. Building up to these five days the pressure really set in. As the senior team leader I was in charge of everything, literally. The man who runs the camp would tell me what to do and then I would tell the 300 plus campers what to do. My team of 20 other team leaders helped out, of course, but I was the lone standing senior team leader. All the organization, procedures, scheduling, and fun was up to me. The first time I had to step on that stage to get all the campers in line was when all worries went away. Right when they heard my voice and realized I was “cooler” than they thought, they listened. As the week went on my “m/c skills” developed and fear never crossed my mind after that.
This is how it goes down: breakfast, morning session, lunch, afternoon session, dinner, bonfire session. Doesn’t sound like much but trust me, it is. All the meals started with an energizer like “Alive, Awake, Alert, and Enthusiastic” or “The Banana Dance” or “Factory Worker” and many more. After we got everyone on their feet and moving, they could go get food. The morning/afternoon sessions were either ropes course, archery, canoeing, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens seminar, or the walk of courage.
In terms of myself, I wasn’t a participant in any of these activities, I was the facilitator. I got a lot of “well, what’s the point of becoming the senior team leader if you don’t get to do anything?” What they didn’t see was that I got more than anyone could’ve ever given me. I was given the joy of seeing people grow. The first night at RYLA some kids are crying on the phone to go home or pouting in the corner during a “dumb” energizer. But you know what, they’re the ones who are up in the front by the five day singing all the “dumb” energizers until their voice is gone. While some didn’t notice, I did. It made my heart happy to see the transformation of some of these people and the smile on their faces when they finally realized that they weren’t the “weird” ones, they were just 1 out of 300 “weird” ones. It’s an up and down roller coaster of finding yourself and breaking out. The reputation RYLA gets is “the best five days of your life” and it truly is just that. The BEST five days of your life.
It showed me my true passion in life: influencing others. There is nothing I crave more than other people’s happiness. I’ve realized that there are so many people out there in the world that all have crazy different stories. Being able to hear them all was the highlight of being a senior team leader. I was fascinated by the interests some people had or the lives they came from. One of the adult’s running the camp told me “Adrianna, I spoke with a boy earlier who was in your group last year. He said you were the sole reason he decided to do better in school and come back this year as a team leader.” Once I heard that, I knew something in me had value.
It all came to an end though, time to face the real world again. Being isolated in that kind of an environment for five days really made me realize how harsh some people can be. I was given a challenge though, spread my ways to the “real world.” Don’t leave it at RYLA. It was time to put my bravery hat on again. Coming back to school wasn’t easy but I did it with a big smile and an open attitude. It was an experience that I will never forget and I wish I could tell everyone to go to RYLA. My eyes have forever been opened and my heart has become even more accepting. On the shenanigan side of things, I was thrown in the lake as “tradition.” All was worth it though.
Seize the day,