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RYLA+ - Developing Young Leaders

Mike Darnold (far left) has guided the development of RYLA in District 5320 for the past 30 years.

San Juan Capistrano Rotarian Mike Darnold started RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) in Rotary District 5320 30 years ago and has been the project's mentor ("godfather") ever since. His work at California Youth Services with troubled youth dealing with drug, alcohol and mental health challenges has been instrumental in developing the incredibly effective and meaningful RYLA program. Here's his observations about this year's RYLA camp:


RYLA+ was the first year transitioning from eRYLA last year to a combined virtual and in-person camp, thus RYLA+. 158 high school juniors attended virtually via Zoom Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday after school. Friday morning they all got on buses to Idyllwild Pines Camp where we spent the next three days.

I cannot express the amazing changes all in good ways. The content of our camp is something most people do not learn in a lifetime, and it is not taught in schools (i.e. personality styles, enneagrams, power skills, the VALUE of diversity, embracing differences, and so much more).

"Hello Mike, I would like to formally thank you for giving me this opportunity. At first glance, I didn't know what it was initially about. I had heard so much praise for RYLA, and I was not familiar with the feeling, not YET at least. However, the more activities I did and more people I met, the more I grew fond of everything. I wouldn’t trade the memories for anything in the world. You have truly changed my life for the better. This is a break from reality that I needed. It has become a second home for me."
One exercise was night walks on labyrinths (revelations and responses took hours after), late night campfire and S'mores.
"Hey guys I got back from RYLA. Changed my life, I wanted to tell you guys that I had an amazing time. I learned a lot of skills that will help me in college interviews, job interviews, work ethics, time management and other important skills. It was amazing to not only be around such talented people, but to learn about what Rotary is and I want to do more to get involved. I met Mike and I think he had a good 30th anniversary of RYLA 5320. I think I’m going to go back next year and try to become a “trail blazer” which is a step down from a junior counselor. This experience inspired me to want to do more for my community. Thank you guys so much for pulling the strings to get me there and funding me."
One of the favorite challenges is the "High Ropes/Zipline" course that helps the students face their physical and psychological fears.


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