The Fort Morgan Rotary Club recently had the wonderful opportunity to hear back from the students it sponsored to attend this summer's RYLA leadership camp. This year, due to the generosity of community members and businesses who supported our fund raising efforts, we were able to send 5 local youth to participate in the fun activities and receive training.
"RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) is a life-changing leadership training program for young men and women where leadership skills and principles are learned, developed and enhanced in an atmosphere of trust and respect. The purpose of RYLA is to encourage and assist current and potential youth leaders in methods of responsible and effective leadership. Many past RYLArians have said, "It was the best week of my life!" "
Student attendees to RYLA, for many of whom this is their first time away from home by themselves,  start their week at RYLA wondering 'Who are all these people' and wonder what will happen. Introductions are awkward and scary. By the end of the week, they describe the time spent as monumental and life changing.
One of our student attendees, Fatima, shared that "I have learned lessons and have had experiences that have changed my view of the world and have given me the confidence to always be myself. I have become a new version of myself, a stronger, more confident, more natural me. RYLA has given me the opportunity and exposure to experience these changes."
Another student shared that they learned to step out of their comfort zone, that change can be good in life, and to consider everyone's experiences when leading. Others mentioned that they now understood that success is a symbol of hard work and the pay off for team work. Putting themselves in other's shoes and listening to their fellow participant's life stories helps them to learn empathy. It is an opportunity to take a break from life and reflect - to gain a positive outlook on life.
Students gain this outlook through the events of the week. They are organized into teams of 11-12 youth and get to participate in outdoor activities such as volleyball, hikes, climbing with a ROPES course, and a team olympics event. They also make team flags, organize comedy skits, participate in a talent show, and wrap up the week with a dance and pizza party. They participate in classes where they learn empathy and leadership skills and hear from motivational speakers who share that life is worth living and that we can learn to build on defeats and succeed in all areas of life.
Finally, the impact RYLA has on our community youth is shown in the following expressed thought: 
"I walked out of that camp a new person, a leader ready to help and lead in my life, my community, my friends and family, in the best way possible...I will always carry this experience throughout my life and I will make a change in the world."