T aylor Mathis, a high school junior from Orland Park, Illinois, USA, came home from a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) event with lifelong friends, leadership skills, and the excitement of becoming a Rotary Youth Exchange student.
Mathis was one of more than 80 high school students from the Chicago area who participated in a RYLA event hosted by District 6450 in October. Students spent three days at the Holiday Home Camp in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, taking part in outdoor and indoor activities that focused on leadership, conflict resolution, trust building, problem solving, and creativity.
"RYLA was simply an amazing program. I had so much fun," says Mathis. "The games we did weren't just games for fun, but actually were meaningful. I've implemented a lot of the leadership skills I learned into the programs I'm in at school."
Starting this summer, Mathis will spend her senior year studying in Germany as part of the Youth Exchange program. She credits RYLA with opening her eyes to different cultures and the possibility of experiencing them.
"It benefited my life in numerous ways," says Mathis. "After making friends with some Rotary exchange students from other countries, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of what they were doing."
About 30 percent of the group, including counselors and facilitators, were involved in Rotary youth programs, says Linda Yates, district RYLA committee chair.
"RYLA is an effective way to combine Interactors, Rotaractors, and Youth Exchange students," says Yates. "It creates great exposure to all the possibilities of Rotary."
The RYLA event included Reality Stores, a popular learning activity that presents students with financial situations they might face as adults. The experience encourages them to consider different career choices and helps them understand the challenges of single parenthood.
"The whole point of RYLA is to learn something while having fun," says Yates. "We want students to go home and spread the word to their friends about their experience."