The Bullard Rotary Club recently sponsored a total of four junior students attending Bullard High School to take part in the annual Rotary Leadership Youth Award (RYLA) camp, taking place in February at Clements Scout Ranch in Athens.
RYLA is an international program that was created by Rotary International to encourage strong leadership in youth. Young people chosen for their leadership potential attend an all-expense-paid camp to develop and enhance leadership skills through activities conducted in an atmosphere of trust and respect.
Specifically, RYLA Camp 5830 is a youth leadership camp for high school juniors hosted each February by Rotary District 5830. The camp focuses on building eight core leadership traits in the students who attend from across Northeast Texas and Southeast Oklahoma.
“We were very excited to sponsor students to attend the RYLA camp this year,” said James Murphy, RYLA camp coordinator for Bullard Rotary Club. “RYLA is an organization that tries to promote students and the leadership qualities that others can see in them, although many of the campers maybe can’t see them for themselves. It’s a great way for to help develop students who have shown skills and qualities that their teachers and other adults have noticed, and to cultivate them and bring them out in the lives of these exceptional students.”
The annual camp is filled with activities from sunrise to well past sunset. Students work within teams to complete a variety of challenges that push them to think outside the box, stretch their imaginations, grow as individuals and a team, and recognize their own leadership abilities.
“At RYLA, the students are paired together with other campers that they do not know in an effort to have them learn how to work with others and figure out how to get through certain obstacles and communicate as a group.
According to RYLA 5830’s website, the leadership traits students and counselors focus on during the camp include integrity, communication, planning, decision making, trust, teamwork, problem solving, and self-esteem.
BHS junior students nominated and sponsored to attend RYLA by Bullard Rotary Club included Caroline Calhoon, Landry Lasseter, Taye McCurley, and Sara Wallace.
According to Murphy, one of the first items of business at the camps is the creation of a new identity for each camper while establishing relationships with fellow campers through working together.
“One of the coolest things they do at camp on the first day is that they come up with nicknames for the students so they don’t go by their regular name,” said Murphy. “They go to these camps and not only do they work to develop the skills the camp focuses on, they also make lifelong friendships and connections.”
In selecting students to attend RYLA, Murphy said Bullard Rotary Club has an interview process, where students respond to identical questions, with the end result also being based on their already-present leadership abilities and stature.
“Depending on how the student carries themselves and responds to the question determines if they’re selected to attend RYLA,” said Murphy. “There were definitely some students who were already leaders that we didn’t end up selecting because we felt like they didn’t really need the help of RYLA. We look for the kids who look like they have the qualities and attributes of a leader, but just don’t know how to express it.”
At RYLA camp, campers also participate in a number of physical and mental challenges with a team, as well as have the opportunity to hear from top local leadership speakers.
Murphy said events such as RYLA camps sponsored by local Rotary clubs and districts serve as a pivotal tool in turning today’s young local students into tomorrow’s community, state, national, and international leaders.
“Organizations like Rotary using a camp such as RYLA helps to create confidence and leadership in the lives of the students,” said Murphy. “They’re able to learn the assets and lessons they’ll need in order to have a voice and use it in the future. I have no doubt that kids who go through the RYLA program really learn about themselves – it teaches them they can be outgoing and how to be confident. I can definitely see several of these students serving as future leaders in our world.”
While attending the RYLA camp, students were taught the RYLArian Creed -- “I am a RYLArian. Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and my honor are steadfast. My word is my bond. I lead by example in all situations.”