Two young men received awards for their dedication to service during the recent Rotary Youth Leadership Awards Academy (RYLA) at William Woods University. Sam Stoll of Festus, Missouri, and Spencer Owens of Lawson, Missouri, were chosen for the honor by their counselors.
The newly established service award honors the late Mike Beahon of Fulton. A past president of the Rotary Club of Fulton, Beahon died last summer two weeks after being installed as governor of Rotary District 6080. He was an enthusiastic supporter of RYLA and spoke at academy sessions each year, promoting a love of service.
RYLA, a unique hands-on experience in service leadership for high school students, was held June 28-July 1. The Rotary clubs of Missouri annually sponsor 100 high school sophomores and juniors from the state to participate in teambuilding and awareness activities, as well as service projects and self-evaluation, to learn the ideals of service.
Developed by some of Missouri’s top professional educators, the curriculum is designed to identify and enhance the qualities of Servant Leadership for each participant, train them on how to successfully implement a service project and inspire them to live a lifetime of “Service Above Self.”
In addition, participants are exposed to all the programs and values Rotary has to offer. Established in 1992, Missouri RYLA Academy has trained and inspired more than 2,500 students statewide. It is considered a model for RYLA Academies worldwide.
Rich Linden, RYLA director, was happy to conduct RYLA on the William Woods campus again this summer.
“We picked William Woods several years ago for central location, fell in love with campus and fell in love with staff and just stayed ever since,” said Linden, “Our entire academy is about servant leadership, taking kids with heart of community and amplifying that. William Woods exemplifies servant leadership with their staff and taking care of people.”
Originally established in Queensland, Australia, the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards promotes global community awareness and service through high, fair, ethical standards and through personal relationships. In 1971 Rotary International officially adopted the academy.
Missouri RYLA is the only Rotary International board-recognized multi-district RYLA in the world. Missouri Rotary Districts 6040, 6060 and 6080 sponsor it. Academy tuition is paid through student sponsorships by local Rotary clubs.
Each Rotary club may sponsor a student or two from their area. Students are typically recommended by schools’ guidance counselors and administrators or by members of the community. After the academy, students attend local Rotary meetings to explain what they’ve learned and focus on doing future community service projects.
“The difference between this academy and other leadership academies, like Student Council or Girls/Boys State, is that it focuses on servant leadership,” Linden said. “You can have a leader that has certain qualities, but a servant-leader takes care of people and wants to make the world a better place; these kind of qualities are different.”
Students from all over Missouri are placed into 10 groups of 10 people. Over four days, they work with a curriculum based on creating and expanding knowledge of leadership and service.
One of the highlights of RYLA each year is a low-challenge ropes course, a series of team-building exercises that allow RYLA participants to learn to work together. Normally held at Scattering Fork Outdoor Center in Mexico, Missouri, the course was held at William Woods this year due to flooding at the center.
“The ropes course is great for getting out of comfort zones and teaching how to solve problems, while relying on people’s strengths and accomplishing tasks,” Linden said.
Another annual highlight is the simulated service project during which each group of 10 plans a service project. RYLA emphasizes leadership, citizenship and personal growth, and aims to demonstrate Rotary’s respect and concern for youth, provide an effective training experience for selected youth and potential leaders, encourage leadership of youth by youth and publicly recognize young people who are rendering service to their community.
“It is important to teach kids they can make a difference in the world and not just zone in on one particular thing,” said Linden. “There are all kinds of ways to take talents and make a difference, find what your passion is and make a difference in the world.”
Rich Linden (right), RYLA director, congratulates Sam Stoll and Spencer Owens, recipients of the first Mike Beahon Service Award.