4 ways to celebrate Youth Service Month virtually

By Erika Emerick, RI programs and promotions specialist

Youth Service Month is a special time in Rotary. Throughout the month of May, members of Rotary clubs, Rotaract, Interact, and those involved in Rotary Youth Leadership Awards and Rotary Youth Exchange celebrate the opportunities Rotary provides to connect, grow through service, develop leadership skills, mentor or be mentored, and have fun.

The outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, may alter the way we observe Youth Service Month this year. But it need not dampen our enthusiasm, excitement, and gratitude for these programs and the volunteers who make them possible. Here are four ways you can safely celebrate: Continue reading

RYLA in Madagascar unites cultures

Soovan Sharma Dookho, lower left, with other participants in the RYLA sponsored by District 9220 in Madagascar.

By Soovan Sharma Dookhoo, president of the Rotaract Club of Riviere Du Rempart, Mauritius

Attending a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards event hosted by District 9220 in Madagascar has been one of my most cherished experiences both from a leadership and a cultural standpoint. I joined members of Rotaract from Mauritius, marching as one, as we eagerly boarded a flight to the longest island in the Indian Ocean. From my first day in Madagascar, I was surrounded by a completely different culture. It was a joy simply going through the streets, and taking in all of the scenery and action.

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RYLA breaks down walls

Mike Norkin leads District 5330’s RYLA as camp director.

By Mike Norkin, RYLA camp director for District 5330 (California, USA)

I attended my first Rotary club meeting as a 24-year-old guest of a member, and sat in complete awe. Students and members who had attended the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards program the weekend before were sharing their stories. I will never forget the feeling I had as I listened to the accounts of how lives were being changed. I knew, at that moment, that I would be a lifelong Rotarian if I was able to participate in this program.

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How RYLA changed my life

Daniel Eduardo Zavala is a District Rotaract Representative. Taking part in a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards event set him down a path of Rotary service.

By Daniel Eduardo Zavala, Rotaract Club of San Joaquin, Venezuela

In 2010, I had my first exposure to Rotary during a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) event in San Cristobal, a beautiful city in my country of Venezuela. A secretary at the university I was attending recommended that I would get a lot out of the event scheduled for the following weekend, and being up for adventure, I said yes. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Continue reading

Trust unlocks creativity at European youth seminar

Participants in the RYLA from the Netherlands and Germany collaborate to develop a strategy.

By Cédric Schad

I am a 19-year-old law student at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. Through the Rotary Club of Bad Bederkesa, Germany, I had the chance to take part in a Dutch-German Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) seminar in Nordhorn this year. It was an amazing experience. When I arrived on that Friday for the “Proud to be European” seminar, I didn’t know what to expect. But luckily, I wasn’t the only one. Continue reading

When I give to Rotary, I get so much more back

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Stephanie Witkowski, middle in blue shirt, during her Rotary Youth Exchange in Slovakia. 

By Stephanie Witkowski, Rotary Club of Honolulu Pau Hana

At 28 years old, I decided to become a Rotarian, because Rotary changed my life.

I grew up in a small town in Oregon, USA, and was a young leader in my school. When I was 15 years old, I applied to attend a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards event in Rotary’s District 5110 to learn more about myself and what leadership meant to me. During that amazing week-long experience, I learned not only about how to be a better leader for my school and community, but about Rotary itself.  Continue reading

Building community and developing leaders at a unique changeover event

Rotary Youth Leadership Awards participants take part in an outdoor challenge course designed to teach leadership and problem-solving. Photo courtesy District 7780

Rotary Youth Leadership Awards participants take part in an outdoor challenge course designed to teach leadership and problem-solving. Photo courtesy District 7780

By Sheila Rollins, governor of District 7780, parts of Maine and New Hampshire, USA

Changeover ceremonies, in which Rotary leaders transition to their new positions, are often formal events. I knew I wanted our district’s ceremony to be different. I wanted an event that would positively reflect the ideals of Rotary, that would be family-oriented and cost-conscious, and that would not take place in a hotel ballroom. I considered combining the district changeover with a service project, but I decided to create something even more unique: I planned the changeover to coincide with our annual Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA). Continue reading

How we survived the Mississippi River in a kayak

Ken Robertshaw and Grace during their trip down the Mississippi River.

Ken Robertshaw and Grace Alsancak during their trip down the Mississippi River.

By Ken Robertshaw, Rotary Club of Halifax, Yorkshire

On 7 August, my friend Grace and I set out on an expedition to kayak the length of the Mississippi River. We completed the journey on 4 October.

Our goal was to raise funds for a charity in the United Kingdom, The Theodora Children’s Trust, that places specialist entertainers in Children’s hospitals and hospices to cheer up ill children and assist their recovery through laughter.

The journey was not without problems. We encountered severe electrical storms, woke Continue reading

Kayaking the Mississippi River to cheer up sick children

Ken Robertshaw and Grace Alsancak during a stop in the kayaking challenge.

Ken Robertshaw and Grace Alsancak during a stop in the kayaking challenge.

By Ken Robertshaw, a member of the Rotary Club of Halifax, West Yorkshire, England

I had the misfortune of seriously injuring my leg 35 years ago, requiring six operations, and the leg still troubles me. So I know how challenging hospital stays can be, even with the best efforts of the medical staff.

Imagine how much worse it is for a child; frightened, sick, and away from family and friends. A while ago, I learned about a small charity in the United Kingdom called the Theodora Children’s Trust that specializes in sending in trained entertainers to bring mirth and merriment to children in the hospital.  Continue reading

Speaking up for Rotary Youth Leadership Awards

Darren Luong, left, and Matt Pomeroy receive cetifications from District 7090 for their work with youth service.

Darren Luong, left, and Matt Pomeroy receive certificates from District 7090 for their work with youth service.

By Darren Luong, a member of the E-Club of Southern Ontario, Canada & Western New York

Sixteen years ago, as a student at Cardinal Heights Middle School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, I received an award from the local Rotary club at my graduation. I didn’t know what Rotary was or even why I had received the award. Time went by and it was forgotten at the bottom of some boxes packed away.

Eight years later, I was sponsored to go to a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards event in my district. This life-changing week and the support from Rotary throughout my life has convinced me that this organization is full of amazing people that can really change the world for the better. Continue reading