Posted by James Garrett
Our speakers were three Pagosa Springs High School students, Sarah Ross, DeAnn Schaaff and Madison Corbett, who had recently attended the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) program held over a three day weekend at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs.
            Introductions were provided by Roberta Tolan, who explained that high school sophomores and juniors (from the past school year) are eligible for the RYLA program, which seeks by exposing promising students to new experiences, issues and challenges, to develop character, build skills and nurture leadership.
            Junior (this year) Sarah Ross told Rotarians that participation in the program had been, to her, like a taste of college, offering opportunities for close interactions with high schoolers of different backgrounds from all over Colorado.  The experience, she felt, encouraged open-mindedness. 
Sarah noted that a feature of the program was a testing “rope course,” in which small teams were challenged to meet demanding goals, which required teamwork to achieve.  The exercise taught trust of others, she said.  In addition, she had participated in a timely project to create “shelter boxes,” containing a variety of supplies for disaster relief, such as were recently needed by victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Sarah observed that among the other lessons she learned was that leadership can take different forms.  Leadership need not be demonstrative, but can be asserted with quiet and reserve, she said.
Fellow junior DeAnn Schaff also commented on the rope course, part of which required her to be suspended above ground with support from the members of her team, in spite of her discomfort with heights.  It was a “good experience,” she said, to be able overcome her difficulty by depending on others.
In addition, DeAnn’s team enjoyed worked on a trail building project, in which they set a record for total trail yardage completed, thanks to the strong spirit of togetherness she recalled they had forged.  She said she had been designated “Rotarian for Life,” by her team, in recognition of her commitment to teamwork and sharing.
DeAnn commented she learned “differences are a plus,” and the importance of reaching out to others.
Senior Madison (“Madi”) Corbett told us she had enjoyed the frequent debates among RLYA participants, which illustrated to her the importance of listening to others. She learned also that a “perfect utopia” is an illusion, given the flaws that are inherent to all human beings.  Madi was also impressed with the program’s keynote speaker, who discussed the subjectivity that underlies human moral perceptions.
Like her two peers, Madi commented on the rope course exercise.  She had prior experience with rock climbing using ropes, she said, which enabled her to help keep team members from “freaking out” during the exercise.  Somewhat slight of stature herself, however, Madi noted that a pair of sturdy six-footers contributed mightily to the team’s success as well.  She observed that the group’s teamwork later carried over to its service project, also trail building.  It was hard, hot work, Madi recalled, but enjoyable because of the fun of working as part of a team.
Madi, who intends to do a year of political activism in Oregon following graduation from high school next spring, added that the RYLA program taught her the importance of offering leadership.  It’s critical, she said, to “speak out,” even for young people.
At the conclusion of the students’ remarks, Roberta spoke for many Rotarians in commenting on how impressed she was with all three.  Listening to them had given “great joy and hope,” she said.
(Note: all errors and omissions in this report are the sole responsibility of your humble scribe, who was compelled by the failure of his cell phone/recorder to depend in writing it on the frail instruments of memory and notes.  Fortunately he received a little help from others on at least a few matters, when he was smart enough to ask, and was rescued from additional embarrassment by the skilled editing of Shellie Peterson.)