SUNNYVALE, Calif.—Bay Area high school students shared their experiences after taking part in the Rotary Youth Leadership Award Camp (RYLA), sponsored by the Rotary International Club of Sunnyvale Sunrise. RYLA is held every June throughout the global Rotary network. The Sunnyvale club is part of District 5170, the fastest growing Rotary District in the world.
Students reported how they transformed themselves during the one-week camp. Many admitted they had great reservations about going to the event, but they came back able to stand up and speak about their experiences in a group. With excitement, they spoke about how they were able to do things that were beyond their expectations.
The Sunnyvale Rotary club was very proud to have been able to send five lucky students to RYLA. The rich, empowering experience taught the students a lot about themselves. They all agreed that if given the chance, they would return to RYLA again.
Dylan, currently an incoming junior at Fremont High School, was not expecting much when he first came to the camp.
“At first, I wasn’t talkative and interactive with the other students, but after a few days we became really close,” he said.
Dylan, along with the other camp attendees, was encouraged to spend time with people he didn’t know, to build friendships as a unified group.
“This experience helped me to become more open,” he explained.
He participated in an entertainment workshop by acting and contributing to the final showcase. His favorite part was the different workshops. They helped him identify what type of leader he is.
After this experience, Dylan is thinking about becoming a Rotarian after he graduates. He enjoyed the life-changing experience and would choose to go back "in a heartbeat," if the opportunity ever presented itself.
Michael, another incoming junior from Fremont High school, didn’t even want to go to RYLA. He sat on the bus alone, and was quiet with the rest of his cabin on the first day. At the end of the week, when some of the other students were expressing how they felt in the beginning, many admitted they had been scared of him.
Michael built many relationships with people that lasted throughout the summer. He learned a lot from the workshops, eventually being able to step out of his comfort zone, even singing the national anthem in front of others.
“I will push my friends to go, and try to do this next year,” he declared.
Unlike last school year, Michael now plans to attend every club meeting and become more involved in his school’s Interact Club.
Jennica, an incoming junior also attending Fremont High school, was very nervous before RYLA. She had always been the shy girl who would never take the initiative to introduce herself to others. RYLA taught her how to meet new people.
Jennica had counted on spending the entire week with her friend, Pauline, but it turns out they were separated into different modules, different activity workshops, cabins, and families. In the end, she was glad. Without a friend by her side, she was able to meet a bunch of interesting new people.
“I’ve never felt so comfortable so quick with strangers because everyone had each other’s backs,” she said.
She is excited to share what she learned at camp with her Interact Club this year.
Pauline, also going into her junior year at Fremont High school, thought she was not going to make any friends. But she learned communication skills from her peers there, and she plans to take those skills back to the Interact Club at her school.
Cynthia, member of a program called AVID, which helps kids develop the steps and skills to get into college, thought the entire process was great.
“At first, I was scared of being on my own at RYLA. I thought I was going to be sitting in the corner by myself,” she said.
To her surprise, it was easy to make friends. No one was distant, and everyone got along.
From others around her, she observed a variety of different perspectives on various situations, and learned from that. Cynthia would like to return and make a difference.
Through RYLA, high school students can get a better sense of who they are. The Rotary District’s hope is for students to leave RYLA knowing who they are as a leader and what they can provide for others like them.
Students who experienced the common fear before camp, of not being accepted as an individual, learned something about themselves they didn’t know before.
Justin, the first and only RYLA Apprentice, was given the chance to return this year with a newly created title. His role was to be wherever his assistance was needed at the camp, whether fixing name badges or setting up a sound system. Being on staff gave him the opportunity to see the activities of the camp from the other side. He learned how to be someone others can look up to.
“When the campers come together in this one isolated place away from their everyday technology, they all have this common goal to better themselves and the world,” he concluded.