We have just completed two successful courses for 64, 16 and 17 year olds from throughout District 1040 and thank you to clubs across the District who sponsored the young people.

RYLA is a life changing experience for many of the young people as they are unplugged from the usual
technology and mobile phones in their lives and removed completely from their “comfort zones”. For five days, they have to live and work with people they have never met before, in circumstances where they are frequently challenged.

RYLA takes place at Hebden Hey Scout Hostel (www.hebdenhey.org.uk) which is at the end of a long, single track lane above Hebden Bridge and when the young people are dropped off by their Rotarians on the Sunday morning, they wonder where on earth they are. By Friday
morning, it is always a difficult job to persuade them to say goodbye to their new friends and go home!

Some of the RYLArians from Course One, recorded their thoughts on RYLA and their comments included:-

“Fun, exhausting, friendship” “Amazing, amazing, amazing” “Best experience of my life” “Amazing, scary, brilliant”
“One of the best weeks of my life” “Fun, hard, stressful”

They also presented Rotary with a poster they had all contributed to and I received this on behalf of the team on the Thursday evening. We were all overwhelmed and I will be having this framed.
The parents of the young people often express their thanks too. “ A huge thank you for the
week my daughter has just had at RYLA. She has loved, loved, loved it. Just had the download of the week, it sounds incredible! Can adults go? Thank you and Rotary for investing in her. It is really appreciated, and she has had a wonderful week.”

RYLA is an experiential learning course and awardees undertake a series of indoor and outdoor problem solving tasks in teams of 8 with a Rotarian mentor. All the activities are geared towards leadership, for example communication, planning, allocating roles and responsibilities based on relevant experience, inclusion of all team members, delegation, problem solving, time management, etc. The activities are led by our professional instructors “Awesome Adventure” who lead what is the most powerful aspect of RYLA, the in-depth de-brief sessions. The “Kolb Learning Cycle” underpins all the activities and by reviewing each task and taking the learning points into the next task, the awardees grow in confidence and their ability to lead a team.

This year 16, 16 year olds and 48, 17 year olds attended the course, 40 girls and 24 boys. 6 attend college, 51 are at school doing A-Levels, 5 are undertaking apprenticeships in the workplace. Their future career aspirations include doctors, surgeons, police, teachers, sports coaching, armed forces, stage management, lawyers, entrepreneurs, architects, chemists, media, midwifery, psychology, accountants, engineers, craftsman joiner, actors, aerospace, physiotherapy. Quite an amazing array of career ambitions and the future is definitely safe in the hands of RYLArians.

On the final evening of each course, certificates and RYLA polo shirts were presented by DG Phil followed by a talent show. We ask the awardees to use the leadership skills they learn throughout the course to run the show including appointing comperes, organising the acts and arranging the running order. We saw performances from a number of individuals and groups which made both nights a huge success. The Thursday evening is an opportunity for everyone to
let their hair down after a week of working hard and the awardees embraced the challenge that we set them. These evenings are a great opportunity for Rotarians to visit RYLA and see firsthand the skills learnt by the awardees and the talents they have to offer.

We also held a Service above Self evening where the awardees filled Shoeboxes with items that they had volunteered to bring. We filled more than 40 shoeboxes across the two weeks and further boxes will be filled with the proceeds of the tuck shop and donations made by Rotarians for refreshments. As part of this evening, Rotarians working on the course gave brief presentations about what Service above Self means to them and we then divided the awardees into groups and asked them to discuss what it means to them and then present back to everyone at the end. We were in awe at the volunteering and fundraising that these young people get involved in.

We challenge the awardees to raise a minimum of £475 themselves (the cost of a place on the course) for a cause close to their own hearts whether that is through raising money or giving their time. We also suggested that they could offer their help to their sponsoring Rotary Club for any events and keep that connection with Rotary.

We have a programme of inspirational speakers every morning at 8.15am, with some selected from the RYLA staff. This year we heard from PDG Ken Robertshaw who kayaked the length of the Mississippi river, Elizabeth Wright, an Australian paralympian and medallist from the Atlanta and Sydney games, our Course Assistant for this year Leanne Oliver, a RYLArian from 2014 who spoke about how she uses the skills gained at RYLA in her life, RYLA mentor Rebecca Mendoza, originally from Salinas in California who spoke about her experiences of Rotary Youth Exchange and her Ambassadorial Scholarship to York and RYLA mentor Rick Raistrick who spoke about the expedition he took part in to Morocco. They were all very well received by the awardees.
This year for the first time, we held an open day. It was designed to introduce RYLA to the new
1040 clubs but we were delighted that Rotarians from the old District also attended. We had representatives from the Rotary Clubs of Hull, Scunthorpe, Louth, Brigg, Halifax, Bradford West, Calverley, Aireborough and Settle. It was a great success and we will be making this an annual fixture.

Thanks must go once again to the Rotary Clubs in the District for taking the time to select and sponsor young people. We appreciate the hard work that goes into selecting the right candidates. Thank you also for your patience when delivering them to and collecting them from Hebden Hey. I am sure you will be looking forward to hearing your awardee/s present to your club about their RYLA experience. Just a note that a number of awardees were still transported to and from Hebden Hey in vehicles with one lone driver. The RIBI Protection Policy states “a sole adult should not carry a single unaccompanied child”.

I would also like to thank all the Rotarians who worked as mentors on the course. Mentors hold a very special role in RYLA. Each mentor is allocated a team of eight awardees and supports and encourages them throughout the week as they learn and develop. The instructors may only see a particular group once or twice but the mentors are always there and provide consistency throughout the week as the awardees undertake tasks and learn from the feedback they are given. Thank you to Claire Metcalfe (Sowerby Bridge), Chris Redfearn (Brighouse), Simon Rebecchi (Leeds White Rose), Cindy Stephenson (Weighton Wolds), Rick Raistrick (Calverley), Neville Oughtibridge (Ossett), Linda Parker (Halifax) and Rebecca Mendoza (York).

My very grateful thanks also go to RYLA Administration Manager Gill Poole (Mirfield) and RYLA Logistics Manager Richard Greenwood (Sowerby Bridge) for their hard work in preparing for RYLA and keeping everything running smoothly during the course. Also to our wonderful chef Sue Leach who keeps us all well fed and Christine Hodgson from the Inner Wheel Club of Halifax (and my lovely Mum) who sets her alarm for 5.30am every day and drives to Hebden Hey to cook breakfast for everyone. This is invaluable because it means I can hold a meeting with my full team every morning at 7am to address any issues and share information.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Awesome Adventure, our professional instructors. Their dedication to the learning experience of the young people is wonderful to see and we are very lucky to have them as part of the team.

We are now preparing to issue the application forms for next year in October’s District Mailing so please watch this space. We are also considering how we can provide extra capacity on the course to accommodate our newly enlarged District.

It is my great privilege to be the RYLA Chairman and Course Director and I am looking forward to
2017 already!

Lucy Hodgson
RYLA Chairman and Course Director Rotary Club of Halifax