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Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) is Rotary's leadership training program for young people to further develop character and leadership skills and learn about Rotary.  RYLA participants can be ages 14-30, but most clubs and districts choose to focus on a narrower age range, such as 14-18 or 19-30.  Though there are many variations for RYLA programs, District 7780’s RYLA works with students the June after their sophomore year in high school. 

RYLA emphasizes leadership, citizenship, personal growth, service and aims to demonstrate Rotary's respect and concern for youth; provide an effective training experience for selected youth and potential leaders; encourage leadership of youth by youth; recognize publicly young people who are rendering service to their communities.

Originating in 1959 in Queensland, Australia, RYLA was created as a festival highlighting local youth organized in honor of a royal visit by Princess Victoria. Through Rotarians’ constant belief in the potential of youth, RYLA has since become an opportunity to help the next generation of leaders define themselves and expand their skills.  Officially adopted by Rotary International (RI) in 1971, this exciting program engages Rotary clubs and districts around the world.

Here in District 7780 we believe that RYLA will assist young people to realize their potential and to adapt to experiences within their life and their communities.  RYLA enables participants to join other young people from across our District. Students come together to exchange ideas, plans and opinions with other talented and energetic people like yourself in a supportive atmosphere, free from pressure and distraction.

The support and interest of individual clubs is a critical element in planning a successful RYLA at any level.  Rotary clubs make RYLA happen. Clubs are responsible for selecting participants and funding their attendance.  In general, clubs are the primary contact point for most youth participants throughout their RYLA experience.

For these students, this recognition offers the opportunity to build self-confidence, gain exposure to a variety of issues and people, meet active community leaders, and learn valuable information and career skills.  RYLA gives Rotarians the opportunity to mentor promising young leaders serving their own communities and beyond.  Rotarians serve as resources for participants on the path to becoming professional and community leaders. In turn, RYLA can bring new energy to a Rotary district, inspire ideas for service, increase support of community service projects, and develop future Rotarians.

The length of District 7780’s RYLA has varied over the years from one to four days and was originally hosted by a Rotary Club(s) but then was changed to be hosted by the District.  In recent years, it has taken the form of a camp that lasts from Sunday to Wednesday.  It was originally held in different locations but since 1998 it has been held at Camp Hinds in Raymond Maine from Sunday to Wednesday at the end of June.  The date varies as it depends on when the students get out of school.

Clubs throughout District 7780 have sent up to 120 high school students RYLA at Camp Hinds in Raymond Maine.  The Rotary Club of Scarborough has been a very avid supporter of this program.  Each year they have been sending more students than any other club in the district.  After registration early Sunday morning, participants will be assigned to a Leadership Exploration Group (LEG) with 11 others where they will spend 4 days together exploring leadership concepts through a series of practical situations.  These include team building activities, group problem solving, confidence building and solo events. 

Each LEG is guided through the conference by a team of experienced facilitators who have been selected by the District Chair because of their demonstrated leadership ability, commitment to the development of youth leaders, and experience with the RYLA program.  Originally all LEG facilitators were experienced Rotarians from District 7780. In 1998, Marie Williams was the first District Governor to be a LEG facilitator.  They had junior facilitators who were RYLA graduates who assisted the Rotarian Facilitators.  In recent years they are using more and more RYLA graduates as the facilitators of the LEGS.  Several governors after Marie have participated in the entire event.  The attendees have signed their names to a huge sheet with the year of the RYLA and each year they are hung up along with the prior years.  Marie Williams saw the sheet from 1998 when she went back in 2007 for the final days activities.  Most governors attend the final day with the parents as this is when the attendees tell about their experience.