Creating a path for future Westminster leaders

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Posted 10/3/19

Service clubs like Rotary International, Kiwanis, Lions and other related organizations play an important role in making local communities better. As you may know, they each have their respective …

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Creating a path for future Westminster leaders


Service clubs like Rotary International, Kiwanis, Lions and other related organizations play an important role in making local communities better. As you may know, they each have their respective concentrations of interest in carrying out specific programs and helping selected groups.

As a proud member of the Westminster Rotary Club for 40 years, I would like to share with you one of the most rewarding and beneficial programs offered by Rotary Clubs across the world.

Offering leadership training to aspiring youth

In 1959, in Queensland, Australia, Rotary Clubs came together to develop and carry out what today we call RYLA — the Rotary Youth Leadership Award. Rotary International then developed the framework and purpose for a five-day leadership training programs sponsored by local Rotary clubs.

Both Westminster clubs, Westminster Rotary Club and 7:10 Westminster Rotary Club, participate in this positive, rewarding program jointly sponsoring Westminster area eligible youth to either attend Young RYLA or RYLA leadership camps in Colorado.

Young RYLA is for middle school students before they start the eighth grade. RYLA camp focuses on high school youth. This year participants came from five middle schools and five high schools from our area. The exact number of participating schools varies every year.

Programs for Westminster 30 area youth

Two camps for each age group are held back-to-back in July for youth who reside in the Colorado, Wyoming and western Nebraska region. The younger groups attend camp at Camp Ponderosa in the Castle Rock area while the older RYLA attendees go to the YMCA Camp in Estes Park.

The Westminster Rotary Club sponsored six Young RYLA and six RYLA youth while the 7:10 Club sponsored 6 and 12 for a total of 30 Westminster youth gaining the benefit of the leadership camp. The recruiting, interviewing, coordination and decision-making are handled by Mary Litwiler of the Westminster Rotary and Roger Gudenkauf of the 7:10 club with efficiency and a big heart for the youth who they shepherd through the process.

The purpose of the RYLA program

The entire focus of RYLA is to provide foundational leadership skills for teenagers.

According to their handout, “It has been said that leadership cannot be taught, but it must be learned. At RYLA there are opportunities to learn the skills through experiential activities, incredible speakers, small group discussions, large group presentations and in building life-long friendships.”

Students are busy all of the time while at camp learning and putting to practice the skill sets they are learning. Early hikes ( and I mean really early, like 4:00 a.m.) to inspirational sights are team building adventures along with various group activities.

As the RYLA material stated, “Part of the magic of RYLA is not having any expectations going into it, which is why we are rather close-mouthed about exactly what we do.”

Local Rotary Clubs sponsor the program

The local clubs pay the $450 per student expense. The program is sponsored by the local Rotary Clubs so there is no cost to the student or the family. The student is responsible for transportation to and from the camp. However, Rotarians will volunteer to take any students to camp who need transportation so that they may still participate.

How the process works

Each year, the process starts with Mary and Roger contacting school counselors as well as getting the word out into the community that applications will be accepted only on-line during the first quarter of the year. Most students apply around spring break.

An essay is required with the application and each applicant is interviewed by a team of Rotarians in May and the selections for the 30 positions are made. It is a big deal with the students. More paperwork is required regarding physical exams and release documents signed by the successful participants’ adult family member. Then in July, the camps led by volunteers made up of Rotarians and former RYLA participants begin.

An awe inspiring experience

The two Westminster Rotary Clubs held a joint RYLA Banquet at Ciancio’s Restaurant this sumer after completion of the respective camps.

Participants with their families attended and celebrated their experiences and joined Rotarians and their family to congratulate the students, but especially to hear first-hand about the individual experiences and their take aways. It was an awesome evening of emotional storytelling, sharing of special experiences and key learning opportunities about leadership, friendships and self- awareness.

Participants told of their individual experiences of how they learned about leadership and the importance of leading by example and group participation. They shared the experience of bonding with others, expressing themselves more freely, becoming more confident and just plain having fun. The joy of the great outdoors with beautiful vistas and inspiring sunrises were described. In many cases, life-long friendships were commenced along the five-day experience.

Many students expressed the sentiment that RYLA camp was the best week of their lives.

“Service above self”

Rotary International has been addressing challenges throughout the world for more than 110 years. The backbone of the organization is the individual Rotary Clubs which are spread across the globe from metropolitan areas to small towns in rural areas. They are made up of individuals who carry out the Rotary motto of “Service above Self.” Rotary links 1.2 million men and women members to form an organization of both an international scope as well as a focus on local community needs and dreams. A key international challenge has been the eradication of polio.

The RYLA/Young RYLA program is just one example of local endeavors by the clubs to help prepare the leaders and decision-makers of tomorrow.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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