This year, for the first time, the number of students has been expanded from 100 to 140. Also attending RYLA will be at least 15 full-time Rotary volunteers and 12 professional school counselors, as well as numerous Rotary visitors and presenters.
The Rotary clubs of Missouri annually sponsor 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.
This year the Rotary Club of Fulton selected Baylor Webb to participate in RYLA. In addition to sponsoring a student each year, members of Fulton Rotary annually serve as night monitors, providing respite for the counselors.
Judge Carol England and Fulton Schools Superintendent Jacque Cowherd, both Fulton Rotarians, serve on the RYLA Board of Directors. Cathy Libey and Suzanne Richter of the Jefferson City Evening Rotary Club are administrative directors.
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, is happy to be conducting 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 for $450 per student. 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 small groups. Over four days, they work with a curriculum based on creating and expanding knowledge of leadership and service.
One of the highlights of RYLA is a low-challenge ropes course, a series of team-building exercises that allow RYLA participants to learn to work together.
Linden said, “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.”
Another highlight is the simulated service project. Each group will think of their own way to host a service project and plan the entire event. These plans are then put into a Prezi and posted online. Last year students took different takes on helping hunger.
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.”
A service award will be presented to a RYLA participant at the closing ceremony Wednesday evening honoring the late Mike Beahon of Fulton. A past president of the Rotary Club of Fulton, Beahon died in 2014, 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.