When I arrived at RYLA this year, I looked forward to lending a helping hand where it was needed and imparting any wisdom I had onto the RYLA participants this year. I did not, however, expect to, once again, learn more about myself, leadership, and Rotary.
I attended District 7450’s RYLA program three years ago in 2009 as a junior at Neshaminy High School in Langhorne. I was an unaware of what I was getting myself into when my best friend begged me to join her for the weekend. At the time, my school did not have an Interact Club, so I had no idea what Rotary was or what RYLA was. In the end, I remember getting up at the Reflections Ceremony Sunday morning and sharing with the other RYLA participants how glad I was that my friend dragged me along because thanks to her, I ended up having one of the best experiences of my life. I got the opportunity to meet 50 amazing peers who were as ambitious and compassionate as I was about helping others. I got to learn about myself, and most importantly, about my style of leadership and how to improve my leadership skills. This allowed me to go on to help start an Interact Club at my high school, to start my own Philosophy Club at my high school, and to later hold a board position in my Rotaract Club. Lastly, it introduced me to the amazing entity that is Rotary. That experience alone opened a huge door of opportunities to me for the future. I now had 1.2 million people standing behind me, ready to help. It was incredible.
I had been eager to return to RYLA since the minute I left. This year, that dream turned into reality. Three years later, I was able to return to RYLA as a Rotaractor and help out. And I enjoyed every second of it. I enjoyed everything for the ice breakers, that from the very beginning began to spring new friendships, to the amazing talent show to the ending reflections ceremony. I enjoyed watching my team, Team Frisqué, become fast friends and work well together to accomplish the tasks set to them. I also enjoyed the chance to get closer to my fellow Rotaractors who were there as well.
I thought that I had learned everything I needed to know from RYLA because I had attended it before. To put it simply, I was wrong. I thought I would just be aiding the participants in their tasks. Who knew that I would be learning more about my own leadership skills in the process? I learned that I have problems sitting on the sidelines. When my group was tasked with making a product and commercial for the free enterprise project, my first instinct was to jump in, start making decision, assign tasks, and to start brainstorming. It took a lot of effort to reign myself in and remind myself that I was only there to oversee their work and that I was supposed to let them do all of that themselves. I kept telling them that I was only there to oversee, but I think I was trying to remind myself more than them. They did fine just one their own. They ended up winning the contest for best product. I realized that they did better without my interference which taught me that sometimes, the best way to lead/help is to actually take a step back and let people have some autonomy in their work. No need to always micromanage all the time. Also, as I sat in the back and listened to Bonnie, Joe, and the panel of Rotarians discuss Rotary and Rotary’s history and projects, I discovered that there was still a lot to Rotary that I didn’t know even after being involved with Rotary for the last 3 years. Simply put, there is always more to learn, whether it be about yourself or those you surround yourself with. Learning is a process that never ceases.
I would just like to say thank you to Rotary and RYLA (and all those who participated in RYLA) for incredible experiences that continue to be highlights in my life no matter where I am or who I’m with. The work you all do is valued more than you realize and the sense of community you create is irreplaceable. Thank you.