Over the weekend of October 27 through October 29, I had the experience of going to the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) in Chester, CT. RYLA is a program run by Rotary International that allows young people to develop personal and leadership skills with focus placed on communication, problem-solving, management abilities, and introduces attendees to the responsibilities of community service and global citizenship It is held semi-annually in Rotary District 7980 (Southern Connecticut).
Around mid-September, I was invited by my school counselor to attend the RYLA Conference. Because conferences are usually associated in my mind as formal, official business, I didn’t really seem interested in going. However, I was strongly encouraged by my counselor and a peer who had attended RYLA in the spring, and I made the executive decision to attend. As the RYLA date approached, I wasn’t sure how to mentally prepare myself since I was given very little information about what was going to happen. I thought it was going to be this formal event where one has to have dress attire for the entire weekend. However, that was not the case.
RYLA took place at Camp Hazen YMCA in Chester, Connecticut. There, each participant slept in cabins and wore sweats practically the whole weekend. The participants had arrived from all over Southern Connecticut, ranging from Stonington to as far as Fairfield,and ages varied from freshmen to seniors. All participants were randomly assigned to different tables and groups, which would be our “family” for the weekend. Each “family” had two student counselors who would be the “mom” and the “dad.” At the start of the weekend, all of the family members are complete strangers to each other. By the time the weekend concludes, all of these people truly do feel like family after going through various trust activities, team-building, and discussions of each other’s true story and struggles in life. When going beyond the weekend, these people will forever be my family and I never want to let go of them.
Going beyond family, there were various activities that challenged the participants both physically and emotionally, all to convey the their true emotions. “At RYLA I was able to open up to people and be able to express myself with people being there to understand and respect me as the person I am,” said Nina Obey, sophomore. Participants were able talk about their views on the problems of today, concerning gender-roles, race division, and more.
Including both Obey and I, there were a total of four participants from Ledyard High School, with junior Ben Vajdos also attending as a student counselor after previously attending RYLA in the spring. Taking what he learned from when he was a candidate, Vajdos found this newfound confidence. “It really inspired me to inspire others. And coming back as a facilitator reiterated [that confidence] for me and it reinforced my voice has a purpose and I can do things with it,” said Vajdos. Over the course of the weekend, the participants had to complete a project that would be presented to a Board of Rotarians. This project would be put together by the youth to “change the norm” of the problems in today’s society, with the guidance of a facilitator. Seeing the ideas of how the participants wanted to change the world for the better was Vajdos’ favorite part of RYLA. In addition, Vajdos is currently working on a project of his own, to start a Rotary Interact Club in order to get Ledyard High School students to engage in community projects and be able to sponsor more students to go to RYLA. Doing so, they could also go out to improve the world for the better.
RYLA was more than a “leadership conference.” It was a life-changing experience, creating relationships that will last forever and giving teenagers newfound skills and abilities to lead and to change the world. To change the norm.
Noah Cayangyang, Staff Writer
Sophomore Noah Cayangyang is a staff writer for the 2017-2018 Colonel. He plays on the soccer and track teams at Ledyard. Noah is also the guitarist in what most people refer to as a “mildly decent band” and FUN FACT: he will *die* if you give him peanuts. Do not feed the wild Cayangyangs.