By Sarah Jenkins, president of the E-Club of Leaders in Service (District 5830), Texas, USA
In 1996, Rotary District 5830 held its first ever RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards). On the 25th anniversary, a group of alumni decided it was time to start our own Rotary club. Rather than creating a traditional club, we decided to be innovative and chartered the Rotary E-Club of Leaders in Service in February 2020 with 22 Rotary program alumni, all former participants and staff from RYLA 5830.
Being a Rotary club that meets virtually comes with unique challenges. And chartering a new club during a global pandemic didn’t come easily, but our leadership experience and training from RYLA created a solid foundation for our team to succeed.
While many clubs struggled to find ways to connect and maintain their membership in a virtual world, we already had the framework to not only start but build our club. Within our first few months, we held several meetings, hosted our first service project, and welcomed five new members. Our guest speakers have included Rotary program alumni, our own members, district leadership, and business leaders across the United States.
And that first service project? We held a virtual blood drive that brought in over 50 pledges to donate blood during a time when the need is critical. Our next project – a virtual book drive – sent almost $1,000 and more than 260 books to Kids Need to Read, an organization that provides books to libraries and schools in underserved communities. In February 2021, we will send four students to RYLA (as long as it is safe to do so) to continue the legacy started and built on by our members. We’re also planning to host at least one fundraiser, for club projects or organizations we support, and quarterly service projects in support of Rotary’s areas of focus next year.
What’s most impressive is our membership. Not only did we start with 22 excited charter members, the work we have done is helping us to grow. Our meetings are well-attended, and we have guests almost every week. Our board is growing with new committees, and our members are actively engaging in all we do. We’ve become an example for our district and beyond on how to work through struggles to come out stronger.
But we would not be here without RYLA. Every Rotarian has a reason for being part of this organization, but it’s truly unique and special to see program alumni, students and young professionals who participated in RYLA, come together to build up Rotary, expand their service in the community, and introduce a new generation to the work that Rotary has been doing for over a century. RYLA taught us all the principles of integrity, teamwork, trust, planning, problem-solving, decision-making, communication, and self-esteem in ways that wove those ideals into our daily lives. Some of the pieces of our camp that set us apart from other RYLA camps are even used in our meetings – using hand gestures to determine feedback and consensus, embracing silence to allow quieter members to speak up, etc.
As we continue to grow, we hope to serve as a launching pad for future Rotarians, guiding RYLA participants, Interactors, and Youth Exchange alumni to continue their Rotary careers in a club that has flexible meeting times, structures, and dues. We want to be a bridge for young leaders to move from Rotary programs into becoming full-fledged members, actively serving their communities for decades to come. RYLA is our foundation, our drive, and our future. We are Leaders in Service, leaders in Rotary, and leaders for the future.