RYLA Course report for 2015

We have just completed two successful courses for 64, 16 and 17 year olds from throughout District 1040 and thank you to the 51 clubs across the District who sponsored the young people.

These Rotary Clubs are making an investment in a young person for which they will always be grateful and will never forget. RYLA does actually change these young peoples’ lives as they start to realise their leadership potential and gain in confidence throughout the course.

To demonstrate this point, the Rotary Club of Brighouse received a letter of thanks from a parent and I quote “She had had what she described as the best week of her life. I haven't seen her so elated, happy or overwhelmed to this degree before with any other activity she has undertaken. It has clearly been a life changing event and one which she will reflect on for her whole life.”

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, for the first time we have also analysed the age profile of the awardees and their future aspirations. We had 21, 16 year olds and 43, 17 year olds. The vast majority were still at school or college and were planning to  go to university but three were undertaking apprenticeships and five more were planning on going into the world of work after their A- Levels. Just one this year mentioned that they were planning to go into the Forces. A number planned on being Doctors. Apprentices always bring a different dimension and we would encourage clubs to mention RYLA to local employers.
On the final evening of each course, certificates and RYLA polo shirts were presented by DG Hazel 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 were visited by
Rotarians from Halifax, Halifax Calder, Brighouse, Ossett, Sowerby Bridge and Bradford West and Inner Wheel members from Halifax.

We also held a Service above Self evening where the awardees filled Shoeboxes with items that they had volunteered to bring. We filled 48 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 Grace Alsancak, a RYLArian from 2009 who kayaked the length of the Mississippi river with PDG Ken Robertshaw last year, Sophie Michelena who had been a Rotary Exchange student approximately 15 years ago, Elizabeth Wright, a paralympian and medallist from the Atlanta and Sydney games, Ryan Wilson, a RYLArian from 2012 who spoke about running his own business using the skills he gained at RYLA and finally from mentor Rebecca Mendoza, originally from Salinas in California who spoke about her experiences of Rotary Youth Exchange and her Ambassadorial Scholarship to York. They were all very well received by the awardees.

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.

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 Chris Aldred, Richard Raistrick (Calverley), Neville Oughtibridge (Ossett), Claire Metcalfe (Sowerby Bridge), Chris Redfearn (Brighouse), Rebecca Mendoza (York), Trevor Mitchell (Ossett) and Linda Parker (Halifax).

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 including with the course favourite – sticky toffee pudding!

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.

After catching up on some much needed sleep, we are now preparing to issue the application forms for next year in October’s District Mailing so please watch this space.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be the RYLA Course Director and Chairman and here’s to RYLA 2016!

Lucy Hodgson
RYLA Chairman and Course Director Rotary Club of Halifax lucyh@eastwoodandpartners.co.uk