Chosen to lead! Youth from across Alaska & Yukon Territory gather for RYLA

Yukon converged to take part in the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards or what is known as RYLA. A three day leadership seminar designed to inspire and arm young leaders with new skills. "RYLA is at the heart of local Rotary efforts to build great communities and promote peace and goodwill," said Marcus Mueller, president elect for the Soldotna Rotary. "In recent years Rotary has placed special emphasis on what it terms new generations.  Through youth exchange, scholarships, programs like RYLA and junior Rotary clubs called Interact, Rotarians work to extend the network of servant leadership that can give back to communities in wonderful and unexpected ways," he said.

"Investing into the leadership of our youth is the key to a stable future and our best hope for world peace" added Kelly Keating, New Generations Chair for the Soldotna Rotary Club. RYLA 2012 was recently held at Solid Rock Bible Camp and was the first time the international assembly was hosted on the Kenai Peninsula. Seventy participants from across Alaska and Yukon Territory, youth leaders, Rotarians and volunteers rallied to the snow covered campus with activities and exercises to inspire personal discovery and building of friendships.

Timi Tullis of the Alaska Association of School Boards has been facilitating RYLAs for the last twelve years and said,  although many students enter the event with some trepidation, RYLA offers the new group avenues to express themselves using the talents and character that was already within them when they arrived. "The energy at RYLA is incredibly tangible; it comes from the kids individually and collectively. As the students begin to articulate the strength within them and when they see that they share the same passions, hardships, fears, and joys with others in their peer group; their confidence rises measurably. These students discover opportunities and begin to recognize how capable they are as individuals and as a generation," he said.

According to Mueller one of the defining features of RYLA and one of the programs major strengths is that the event is planned and led largely by former RYLA participants. RYLA Alumni begin working months in advance of the event designing a schedule filled with activities that are relevant to their age group. This year the Alumni slammed the event with the viral "Bernie" dance, a retro icon remixed to let it all loose. More than just fun, the Alumni bring a mentorship to the RYLA participants by working alongside their peers and sharing their experience. Returning to RYLA as Alumni is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the leadership skills cultured at RYLA. Practically every RYLA participant is vying to be selected for the Alumni role the following year which speaks volumes for the success of the program.  "It isn't anything like I'd anticipated; the adults here treat us as equals and offer suggestions on how to enhance our leadership skills.  It may appear that we are just playing games but a lot of the activities we do are tactile in learning leadership skills, were having fun while learning things we hadn't anticipated could be so much fun," commented RYLA alumni Sarah from White Horse, Yukon Territory.

Mueller says Rotary sees RYLA as an important program and a worthwhile investment. "These kids will move on from RYLA full of energy and ability. Rotarians hope to see these kids again, as youth exchange students, as scholarship applicants, as Interact members, as Rotaract members, as Rotarians and as servant leaders throughout the world," he said. A new group of students will have the opportunity next year to attend RYLA 2013 which is tentatively scheduled for April 25-28, 2013. The application period will be in January and February. Not only can high school sophomores and juniors initiate their own application when forms are provided to the schools next winter, but teachers and counselors can nominate great kids with great leadership potential for the program. RYLA is sponsored by local Rotary Clubs and there is no cost to the participants.