RYLA inspires future leaders


Pictured from left to right are Zoey Royer, Norah LeBlanc, Sofia Harrison, Brooklyn Elliott, Hallie Maddox, Gabrielle Moore, Chloe Wells, and Luke McDow.

Camille Kelly, Managing Editor

RYLA, the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, is a camp that specializes in building teamwork and leadership skills for high school juniors around Texas. On the weekend of Jan. 6-8, seven juniors and one senior attended the camp: Norah LeBlanc, Gabrielle Moore, Zoey Royer, Luke McDow, Brooklyn Elliott, Sofia Harrison, Chloe Wells, and Hallie Maddox, who returned as a counselor for her senior year.  

“Kids come to RYLA as leaders with no direction; they leave with a toolkit of the ways to lead,” Maddox said. “They learn how to encourage, stay positive, trust their peers, and so much more! No one leaves the same.”   

The campers who attended this year said they believe RYLA teaches the future leaders of the world how they can serve and make a difference.  

“To be a good leader you need to have good relationships with everyone around you,” Royer said. “The reason I thought RYLA was a great idea was because it seemed to be a playground full of opportunities to meet new people a learn valuable lessons.”  

The campers are split into teams with people from different schools all over Texas. Each team is led by a counselor, and teams spend every day working together to complete fun teamwork games and leadership challenges.  

“It’s insane how quickly the campers learned to trust one another,” Moore said. “If you would have told me that the same group of strangers I sat down with on Friday night eating M&Ms and sharing silly facts about us would have been catching me in a trust fall from a 5 ft platform or hoisting me through a hole 7 ft in the air, or even shoving me through a “spider-web” made of bungee cord, I would have laughed.”  

Each of the campers say that they have learned valuable lessons from the experience which will continue to impact them throughout their lives.  

“My time at RYLA really helped me to get over my fear of talking to new people,” LeBlanc said. “I think this leadership program is important because it teaches high schoolers how much potential they really have, and that they can use their voices to do great things.”

Moore and McDow were selected to return to RYLA in 2024 as counselors. 

“The second I pulled into the driveway of Piney Woods Baptist Encampment on Friday night, and I was greeted by at least a dozen counselors screaming and shouting and banging on the car, I knew I wanted to be a counselor next year,” Moore said. “I am so excited to be able to lead others and encourage the next batch of future leaders.”  

The mission of RYLA is “to develop a diverse group of servant leaders by instilling life-long leadership skills and a commitment to service above self.” 

“My greatest take away from camp is that no matter where I am I can find a place to fit in and make everyone feel included,” Royer said. “I recommend every upcoming junior to look forward to possibly attending RYLA in 2024. You won’t regret it!”