Posted by Paul Elsley, on behalf of the RYLA 2022 team
Six months ago, with everything still uncertain, the RYLA planning team made the commitment to having an in-person RYLA and, although we were not without casualties, it was a resounding success. To make sure everyone was as safe as possible, we put several measures in place including masking indoors, making certain a nursing student was on site, and having the participants rapid test before coming to camp. Unfortunately, three of the students tested positive and were unable to come. We have already told them that they are first in line for next year’s RYLA.
That left us with 40 students who came from across the district. We had 7 students from Quebec, 7 students from New York state and 26 students from eastern Ontario. As has become the custom, there were twice as many girls as boys and we had a range of cultures, languages, and countries (including an exchange student from Germany) in our midst. Yeah DEI! A special thanks goes out to the Rotary Club of Plattsburgh which sponsored Jacob Mitchell. He travelled the furthest taking 4 ½ hours, including navigating the Canadian border, to get to the camp.
A second special thanks goes out to RKY Camp. For those of you who don’t know, the “R” in RKY stands for Rotary. It is located in Parham, Ontario, one hour north of Kingston on beautiful Eagle Lake ( ). My club was one of the founders of the camp 80 years ago and the Director of the camp is D’Arcy Munn, who is a member of our club. What made this year’s experience the best yet was the support of D’Arcy and his staff. They led our outdoor activities, including the waterfront, provided wonderful meals and snacks, and were especially accommodating when we adjusted our schedule along the way. D’Arcy and his Assistant Director, Andrew Walker, were so kind to charge us very low fees, covering only their costs. This made it possible for us to set the lowest in-person fee yet ($250/participant) and it allowed many clubs to sponsor more than one student. We have already recommended to Fay and Michel that we consider making this the permanent home of RYLA in District 7040.
The program was led by Maddy Pawlowski, my co-Chair for the past 4 years, and supported by many RYLA alumni, Rotaractors and Rotarians. Our goals for the program included developing the leadership skills of the participants, enhancing their ability to collaborate, and providing them with opportunities to make connections and network. Each participant was assigned to a group which led to some terrific presentations just before our closing ceremonies on Sunday afternoon. It was heart-warming to see what they learned at RYLA and inspiring to hear about their hopes and dreams.
We have received many notes of thanks already from parents, Rotarians, colleagues and, most importantly, the participants. One of our sessions introduced them to other Rotary youth programs and it was wonderful to see the kids talking to Laurie LaBrie about Interact and Sherri Agnew about Youth Exchange long after the session ended. Many others asked if they could return as RYLA alumni to help with future events.
It is with some sadness that Maddy and I will be stepping down as RYLA co-Chairs. Still, the Kingston clubs have hosted RYLA for the past six years and it is time for others to take the experience and make it even better.