… To trust, listen and allow.
Last week I volunteered as a Senior Counselor at a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) camp. Everyone told me it would be amazing. Magical. Life-Changing. Mind-Blowing.
Wow, it was even more than that! I learned so much about our kids, team building, leadership, friendship and trust. And I learned more about myself.
Trust the process:
The conferees (aka kids) were High School Junior age student who filled out applications and applied to local Rotary Clubs for scholarships. They applied for different reasons. Some to add to their transcripts. Some to overcome specific issues such as social anxiety. Some wanted to become leaders. Some because their friends said “They just had to go, it will change your life!” Regardless of why they applied, they left with leadership tools, self-confidence, understanding, awareness and new friends.
In the region where I am, there were over 181 participants in week 1 and a similar amount in week 2.
These kids were in constant motion. They had a schedule that began at 7 am every morning and kept them busy until after 10 pm each night. Every activity challenged them to develop communication and problem-solving skills, to learn from each other and work as a team. Each day included motivational, community and peer speakers with powerfully specific messages. One morning the entire group took a sunrise hike in silence. We slowly made our way to the top of a nearby mountain and sat to watch a new day begin. Some of them had never been on a hike before. For some, it was their first sunrise.
Every day was a different speaker with a different message that reminded these kids to remember to push pebbles, follow the Four Way Test, trust in themselves, honor their stories and follow through. The speakers overwhelmed them with words of hope, love and belief.
Listen and observe:
My role was to support my Junior Counselor (JC). The JC’s were in charge. My job was to watch the group. To assist when needed but to stand back and let the JC lead our group. With each activity, the conferees learned to speak up, ask questions, offer ideas , ask to see if others had input and they slowly turned into leaders. Sometimes it was really hard to be an observer! But to see the group get though an exercise by working together and supporting each other was rewarding. And to see a group fail and then listen to them debrief and figure out what happened, how they would do it differently and what they learned was worth my silence. The smile on my face said it all.
There were some amazing and sad stories that were shared. Topics such as school shootings, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, violence, eating disorders and other heart-wrenching issues faced by these kids were touched on. The world these kids face every day is so different from the one I lived in. As a kid, if someone said something mean to me, it stuck in my head and I played it over and over (yes, it’s still there to this very day) but now, when something mean is said, it is usually on social media platform for the world to see. Its life span is longer and once published, it’s out there forever. It’s hard to tell them that it doesn’t matter. Or that nobody will care. Or that nobody will know. Not in this day and time. Social media is often used as a cruel weapon that continues to wound.
RYLA’s leadership camp is compelling, impressive and rewarding. The end result for these kids was truly life changing.
Allow for continuous self-growth:
As for me, the wise and mature woman — WOW! Their stories showed me the crazy world they live in. And they reminded me that we all crave the same things, regardless of our age – acknowledgement, support, someone who believes in us, friendship and most of all …love.