top of page

Three Decades of Changing Lives


Mike Darnold (r) with one of the RYLA Alums.

Mike Darnold's Rotary journey began in 1977 with the San Juan Capistrano club, but it was his involvement with RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) for the past 31 years that truly defined his Rotary story. Since its inception, RYLA has been a beacon of transformation for countless young lives, thanks to the passion and dedication of people like Mike.


One of the many inspiring stories from RYLA is that of Jazmin, a former camper who now serves as a lead staff member. Married to a Marine and mother of two, Jazmin returns every year to train counselors and help run the camp. Her journey from camper to leader showcases the enduring impact of RYLA.


The idea for RYLA in District 5320 sparked in 1992 when fellow Rotarian Ivan Edwards attended a RYLA camp in Texas. Recognizing Mike's passion for youth service, Ivan suggested they start a similar camp. Together, they traveled across the West and South, visiting various RYLA camps, including one in Melbourne, Australia. Their final visit to the San Diego RYLA camp provided the perfect model: kids leading kids, with juniors attending and seniors returning as guides.


In April 1993, they held their first RYLA camp at Idyllwild Pines with 50 high school juniors and a few senior counselors from San Diego. From the beginning, it was clear this camp had the potential to change lives. Mike's love for camp, the mountains, and working with youth made RYLA a perfect fit for him. They developed a regular schedule with campfires, dances, talent shows, and air guitar contests, along with speakers who focused on success, ethics, and Rotary values.


As the camp grew, so did its impact. Will Thrall, another RYLA alumnus, went on to attend Annapolis, demonstrating the leadership and excellence cultivated at RYLA. For many students, RYLA is the first time they step into a leadership role, learning to collaborate with peers from diverse backgrounds. It's a place where they practice decision-making, problem-solving, and effective communication in a supportive environment.

Mike Darnold (r) presenting awards to students at San Juan Hills High School. Many of the students are RYLA alumni.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 forced them to cancel camp for the first time, but the spirit of RYLA persisted. They pivoted to an online format using Zoom, forming a coalition for youth service training across the western USA. Through these connections, Mike met Bridget Markwood, a professional coach and Rotarian who helped them create an online RYLA camp. This six-day camp was a huge success and led to a hybrid model in 2022, combining online sessions with in-person activities.


RYLA in District 5320 has evolved into a multi-dimensional leadership development experience, combining Rotary values with essential leadership skills. The program includes interactive games and activities online, followed by immersive in-person experiences like ropes courses and team challenges that challenge teens to overcome their fears while building teamwork. The goal is to prepare students to be engaged citizens and future leaders who can work together to solve problems.


Mike believes that RYLA is more than just a camp; it's a transformative experience that shapes young lives. In today's fast-paced, interconnected world, youth face unique challenges that require resilience, leadership, and ethical grounding. RYLA provides a safe space for them to develop these critical skills.


Moreover, RYLA instills a sense of responsibility and service. The camp emphasizes the values of Rotary—ethics, service above self, and the importance of community. Through activities and discussions, students learn the value of giving back and the impact they can make in the world. This understanding inspires them to take on challenges and contribute positively to society.

Mike hosting his annual end-of-year beach party for the RYLA alum/staff.

Reflecting on this journey, Mike is grateful for the opportunity to make a lasting impact on the lives of young people. RYLA has not only allowed him to return to camp each year but also to contribute to the growth and development of future leaders. It’s a testament to the power of Rotary and the difference they can make together.


Over the years, District 5320’s RYLA has hosted well over 5,000 campers and involved more than 600 Rotarians as counselors and staff. They have raised and spent more than $3 million to keep the project running. The stories of RYLA alumni are varied and inspiring, from happy marriages to significant personal achievements. Many of the current counselors were once RYLA campers themselves, continuing the cycle of leadership and service.


RYLA's enduring legacy is seen in the lives it transforms and the leaders it shapes. It's more than a camp; it's a catalyst for positive change, driven by the unwavering commitment of Rotarians like Mike Darnold.

5 коментарів

Оцінка: 0 з 5 зірок.
Ще немає оцінок

Додайте оцінку
Гість
29 трав.
Оцінка: 5 з 5 зірок.

It's a great pleasure to serve next to Mike. His passion and love for the kids is incredible to see.


Вподобати

Гість
28 трав.

Mike’s work is a living testimony to the value of guiding and developing our youth. He’s built the model for others to follow and it’s an honor to work beside him and follow his mentorship.

Shawn Simmons

San Juan Capistrano

Вподобати

Гість
28 трав.

Mike has given so much to our youth and continues to find ways to contribute to our community. Well done Mike and thank you for sharing your life with us! You are truly a great man and a great Rotarian.

Вподобати

Гість
27 трав.
Оцінка: 5 з 5 зірок.

This is Toni Kay. Please tell Mike congrats for me and I said “HI!”

Вподобати

Гість
27 трав.
Оцінка: 5 з 5 зірок.

An excellent tribute to a great Rotarian.

Вподобати
bottom of page