(from Phil Giordano - RYLA Chair and Camp Director)
RYLA is a MOVEMENT, not an event.   Camp RYLA in District 7780 is held the end of June every year. However, the values of RYLA, along with preparation are in constant motion making RYLA an actual movement that brings about lasting positive behavioral change in our youth.   Clubs in District 7780 collaborate in funding and supporting each other to fill the 144 student openings and the 48 on site staff positions that make RYLA Summer Camp a reality.
Collaboration is fundamental and happens at so many levels.  Over the past two years, 95% of clubs in the District have funded either students or staff or both.  Rotary Clubs join together to find and support students.  School Communities represented by various Rotary Clubs collaborate on helping students, and often clubs will help support students in communities that are beyond the boundaries of their club.   Rotary clubs also financially support our volunteer staff by providing scholarships for them to attend camp, along with trainings that continue the development as facilitators and leaders.  A year in review shows the commitment and positive impact of RYLA creating a ripple effect.
(Please take the time to read the rest of Phil's article about this terrific program in the READ MORE area)
RYLA is ongoing.  On July 9th, 2016 the week after the official camp ended, A small group of staff facilitated a mini RYLA for the Friends Forever Program with groups from Northern Ireland and Israel.  The RYLA Staff Team met in NH at the Friends Forever campus and provide a day of programming.  Amazing results and fun had by all.  The ability to help foster world peace is at the core of RYLA service.
The year continued with RYLA Summer Service Projects.  -   The value of Service Above Self brings the RYLA team together in service projects.  Individual Team members planned and executed two projects.  In Portland, we gathered in service in assisting distributing food and at Odiorne State Park in Rye, NH to help with painting, landscaping and cleaning the beach.  Service is about being present to the needs of others and bringing happiness to our work.
Every Summer in August the RYLA team gathers for a training and reflection day.  In 2016 the focus was on Myers Briggs (MBTI) personality types and practice facilitation of some RYLA elements.  Summer training helps with the life transitions of our RYLA Leadership Team as they begin new challenges in their lives such as changes in supporting each other and fostering the relationships so we can all continue to give as we interact with our communities.
Rotarians know that relationships which have fun and social time mixed in are imperative to providing the energy to go forward with the heavy lifting of the work required in the many service projects and programs we provide.  In December, staff member Christian O’Connor hosted the First Ugly Sweater Holiday Social at his house with 31 members able to join in the festivities.
The work of RYLA is ongoing all year long, as the RYLA Chair, I am supported by a Senior Advisory team that works directly with me on the curriculum, planning for Camp in June, and supporting team members through out the year.  We measure years of Service in RYLA by how many years (including the year they were first an RYLA camper) they have been actively involved with RYLA.  The following individuals represent the advisory team for 2016/2017 Rotary Year:  
Natalie Kovalcik – Dover Rotary – 10 Years
Nicole Jones – Portsmouth Rotary – 9 Years
Kait Hall – Saco Bay Rotary – 9 Years
Donald Clark – South Portland Cape Elizabeth – 8 Years
Katelyn Pierson – Saco Bay Rotary – 7 years
Emily Rumble – York Rotary – 7 Years
Sam Klemarczyk – Exeter Rotary 7 Years
Anna Saucier – Bethel Rotary – 6 Years
The advisory team takes on assignments and forms subcommittees that are part of a continuous feedback loop to improve the RYLA program.   We have established the goal of making RYLA District 7780 the premier “Positive Youth Development Leadership Program” on the plant.  The advisory team takes on everything from improving the COPE course at Camp Hinds, to developing and improving the programming during Camp, and helping with recruitment and spreading the value that RYLA provides to Rotary and potential campers.
    The turning of the calendar at New Year’s Day begins our process in full force, starting with evaluating and choosing new team members.  We receive on average 30 + applications from campers that want to come back and become leaders within the RYLA program.  Typically we are able to accept 6 to 8 new staff members to begin training.  The most difficult part of the program is making these decisions among very qualified and talented leaders in our high school communities.
    Once the team is chosen the training begins in March or Early April to introduce new members and grow the skills of existing members.   We then hold a second training and cleanup weekend at Camp Hinds in May to continue personal skill development and professional leadership growth our youth leaders.
    The work of registration, collecting medical forms, working with clubs on funding both student and staff is in full force by mid-April and continues up until the day camp begins in late June.  Preparation to run the 4-day camp includes planning the combination of fun and work that happens during RYLA.  Making sure we have the right amount of chocolate bars, graham crackers, and marshmallows is as important as receiving the medical forms and consent forms from parents. T-shirts, candles, water bottles, band-aid, sunscreen, and every little nuance of running a summer camp with almost 200 people is put into place every year keeping the registration/administration team diligently working on all these details.
    Finally, we arrive at Friday night June 23, with staff coming at 4:00 p.m. to move into their campsites and begin onsite training and preparations for RYLA 2017.   The gathering is the first time the unique combination of all of the RYLA 2017 team is assembled.  We take the time to celebrate our previous year and get ready to roll up our sleeves to get to work.
    The RYLA curriculum has at its core LEGs (Leadership Exploration Groups) and Programs.  Facilitators are paired together and assigned to work directly with one LEG or to run a full Program. We have twelve LEGs and six Programs.   A program is something each LEG attends at some point during the week, these include Ethics, Public Speaking, Community Build, The Crash, Towers, and Leadership Strengths and are run by the same program facilitators for each LEG.
LEG facilitators work with each group to take them through the process of elements in the challenge course and helping facilitate reflections enhancing feedback on growing confidence as leadership skills are put in place.  The individual relationships fostered at the LEG facilitation level help campers discover and use their unique personal leadership strengths.
    Behind the scenes, team members work closely together to share best practices, help find a way to connect with campers and to ensure that each team member is both a mentor and mentee for each other.  Feedback is critical for lasting leadership development, and the team that is open to the process grows in skills.
    The combination of physical and mental challenges brings to the surface the importance of looking at our individual perspectives and how they impact our judgment of others.  RYLA puts into place an environment that both RYLA campers and RYLA staff members critically examine their own ‘way of being’ and how we have choices to respond to be the type of person that others would want to follow.  We spend time moving into the challenge zone and discovering where the edge of our panic zones are so we can transform into the unique individual leaders we choose to be.
    On Sunday morning, Camp RYLA begins with the first student arriving at Camp Hinds in Raymond.  We start immediately with making all campers and parents comfortable as they register and meet their team who will go on an incredible 4-day journey.   
Trust is built and fostered among LEGs from the very beginning with implementing ‘trust falls’.  We rely on the building block of establishing stable relationships as the foundation tool to deal with conflict management (internal and external) to be spreading peace. “The quality of your relationships is directly proportional to the quality of your life. Relationships that are in good working order- the details don’t seem to matter.  Relationships that are not in good working order- the details appear to get in the way.” Doug Carter, Rotarian Mt. Shasta CA.
    We highlight Rotary and service through a Purple Pinkie Project raising $600.00 for Polio Plus, thanks to the support of North East Credit Union and Bill and Linda Gates Foundation.  Staff shared about their continuing involvement in Interact and Rotaract.  At our Final Camp Fire Ceremony, Natalie Kovalcik was awarded a Paul Harris Fellow from the Rotary Club of Dover for her 10 years of service to RYLA.  Leadership education is experienced, and Rotary values are displayed through active involvement to allow the positive impact to be felt at an emotional level by participants.

The best way to judge the impact is through comments about RYLA from unsolicited emails and note cards.  First from a parent perspective: 
“I just want to thank you for the gift of RYLA. Both my children are very different, yet both have been profoundly impacted by camp.”  
“Thanks for RYLA, My son can’t stop talking about it!” 
“I recently picked up my daughter, the other day from RYLA. I just wanted to "thank you" for the program and experience you give these kids. She came home a different person and told me it "changed her life" on the walk back to our car. She truly had an AMAZING time, the most I have ever felt, and I just wanted you to know that.”
“I want to thank you for giving my son an experience that he will never forget.  He really enjoyed the entire experience, both emotionally and physically.  His "leg" really made an impact! When we got home, he was telling us about it with tears in his eyes and already missing everyone!  Now he can't wait to apply to hopefully be a part of your staff!  He goes to a private Jesuit school, so he has had retreat experiences, however, this was just different, and he said it changed him!!! (Even my husband was teary eyed at the closing ceremonies on Wednesday night!) SO THANK YOU!!!”
Second, from students:
“I just wanted to email you to thank you for all of the work you and your crew put into making RYLA an incredible experience.  When I signed up I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I'm still so amazed and grateful that I was able to have the experience that I did.  It was truly unexpectedly life changing.”
“I wanted to personally thank you all for selecting me as a recipient of this year's Rotary Youth Leadership Award Conference. I really enjoyed RYLA, and found the information and experience awe-inspiring!  It was such a GREAT experience, and hands down one of the best camps I have attended. I hope to return to RYLA next year as a student facilitator.”
In hearing directly from students and parents, the question of how do we measure RYLA comes to mind. 
  • To begin it is noteworthy to take stock of the number of volunteer staff hours it takes to maintain momentum for the RYLA (2016 is an average year, not an exception).
  1. Friends Forever Program (mini RYLA) -  82 Volunteer hours
  2. Service Projects -  128 Volunteer Hours
  3. August RYLA Staff Training – 256  Volunteer Hours
  4. Advisory Team Meetings & Sub Committee Tasks and Meetings – 150 Volunteer Hours (minimum)
  5. Registration and Administration – 96 Volunteer Hours (minimum)
  6. Spring Trainings and Clean Up – 630 Volunteer Hours
  7. Running Camp – June 23rd to June 29th – 1920 Volunteer Hours 
  8. There are countless hours by Rotarians at a club level that could be added to this number.
  • Total time for a year of RYLA service hours equals 3,262 (at a minimum).   
  • For RYLA to be measured regarding cost, the $375 per student and staff member is minimal to the value of the program.   The value of this Rotary Scholarship for RYLA is estimated at $750.00 per student attending.  If RYLA were a paid Leadership Summer Camp week with paid staff, even the $750.00 value would be low.  
  • RYLA can be measured by district involvement with 95% of clubs directly funding the program and supporting positive youth services over the past two years through RYLA.
  • RYLA can be measured by the longevity of the program with 2017 representing the 27th time District 7780 has pooled resources to create leadership learning opportunities for high school students.
  • As Director at camp and District 7780’s RYLA Chair, I measure by the number of times I am told by students, parents, Rotarians, college admissions, and hiring managers that RYLA has been a transformational experience that has shaped our leaders.  I am truly humbled by the outpouring of support, the commitment of Rotarians, RYLA Staff, and Alumni.   RYLA is making a lasting positive impact on our world because we make a lasting positive impact on the individuals that are touched by our curriculum.   RYLA is truly one of the greatest collaborative movements in District 7780.
I would like to end with a call to action.  We have 144 slots available and need to fund for 48 staff members.  Please consider using a portion of your 2017-2018 budgets to help keep this program growing.   As we develop the skills of facilitators for a peer-leadership program, we could possibly have more programs.  We could make even a larger impact, we can continue to strive for peace because we are building the skills and relationships while providing communication tools to manage conflict.  RYLA is a Movement in District 7780 – Join the movement.