RYLA veteran gets with the program
A major in the U.S. Army Reserve, Steve Melton has served RYLA in almost every capacity.
Steve Melton has been going to Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) events for almost two decades. A major in the U.S. Army Reserve, Melton has volunteered at the RYLA camp held by District 5810 (Texas) almost every summer since his own time as a RYLA participant. He’s served as everything from counselor to deputy director to construction team member.
THE ROTARIAN: What led you to RYLA?
MELTON: My high school counselor had me fill out an application. I had no idea what RYLA was. I was not going to go. I was a football player looking for a scholarship, worried about missing a week of working out. One of my friends had gone and she came up to me and said, “I heard you got picked for RYLA. You have to go – it’s the greatest thing ever.” It is one of the top three decisions I have ever made.
TR: What did you learn?
MELTON: That everyone has something to bring to the table, and you only have to figure out what that is. One of the secrets to my success is putting the right people in the right position. I’ve used that in the military. Last year was my final year of command in the Army Reserve, and when I took over the group, the brigade commander pulled me out and said, “You’re getting the worst we have.” I applied the lessons from RYLA, and when I was done with my three-year command, the brigade sergeant major told me, “This is the best company in the brigade.”
TR: How does RYLA work?
MELTON: RYLA, in our district, is a weeklong leadership seminar. It’s complete immersion training. Every day is full of activities and speakers, and every day we have a theme related to different facets of leadership, such as ethics and community service. We do team-building exercises, including a challenge course with a 6-foot wall that everyone has to help each other over. We want to make the participants better leaders so that when they go back and become team captains and student council presidents, they can be examples for the groups they’re leading.
TR: What do you love about being a camp counselor?
MELTON: It’s the most direct contact you have with the campers, and that’s what camp is all about. After dinner and after the night’s activities, when they’re back in the cabin and they’re just talking, that’s when they get their epiphanies and you can watch them come together as a group. It’s inspiring to see.
TR: What sort of epiphanies?
MELTON: Normally they come in thinking that leadership means being the boss, as opposed to being the person who does the small thing that goes unnoticed but allows the group to accomplish a goal.
TR: Why is the RYLA experience unique?
MELTON: It’s one of the few, maybe only, times in my life and most of the campers’ lives when there’s a completely safe environment. You are free to be yourself.