Posted by Jim Garrett
Note: your reporter was detained at work and arrived late, regretfully missing the Invocation and song.  Accordingly, neither is covered in this report, which commences with the introductions of the new incoming exchange students for this school year.
Lisa Scott introduced Rotary to new exchange students Kata Acuilera, from Chile, and Theodor Bonlokke, from Denmark.  Both rose from their seats briefly to tell us their home-towns: Kata is from Santiago, and Theodor, from a community one hour from Denmark.  While our visitors’ brief “hellos” left all curious, no doubt we will hear more from them in the coming weeks.
Then the new exchange students got to hear from three of their soon-to-be fellow Pagosa Springs High School students, as they and Rotarians were treated to a presentation from this summer’s local Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) attendees.  (A fourth local attendee was last-year’s Exchange Student, Laura Delgado, who had departed with her indefatigable cheerfulness for Brazil prior to last week’s  meeting).
According to the Rotary District 5470 website RYLA page, the program was started in Australia in 1959 in anticipation of a visit by a member of the British royal family.  It was adopted as a club activity by Rotary International in 1971.  Our District’s version is for 10th and 11th grade students, though the international program is available for a much broader range of ages, 14-30.
The program this year was held June 22-25 at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs.  A description of the program provided to its participants described it as a “Leadership Retreat,” in which they had been invited to participate, “because Rotarians in your community have identified you as a student with leadership potential.”
The description continued, “The RYLA Retreat Weekend is an intensive leadership training program. The teaching staff will lead a program on recognizing your personal leadership strengths, practicing your skills in leadership, and will teach practical skills in how to lead a meeting, event, or organization. There will be both discussion-based activities as well as physical group challenges such as games and ropes courses over the weekend.”  
Consistent with usage in RYLA’s birthplace, Australia, the word “Award” in the name is synonymous with “scholarship,” reflecting the Club’s sponsorship of attendance.   This year’s local awardees/attendees Emma Happ, Nolan Kay and Piedra Goff, were introduced by Roberta Tolan, our RYLA chairperson.
Their presentation began with recognition of the absent Laura, who, Nolan said, ”Had a pretty dang good time” at the retreat.  He added they had not known Laura well beforehand, but they all “clicked,” from the beginning of the weekend.  And that seemed pretty representative of the experience: Emma, Piedra and Nolan all commented at various points in their presentation about their enjoyment of the opportunities for making new friends the Retreat provided.
They described a fun and challenge filled, educational, long weekend involving games, team-based events including trying physical adventures and service projects, social activities ranging from movies to a dance, presentations from experienced leaders, and debate-like exercises in communication skills daring them to resolve moral issues and defend their solutions.
Participants were divided into groups for the duration of the retreat and throughout the activities.  At first, Nolan recalled, members of his team “butted heads because everyone wanted to be the leader.”  That impeded performance he observed, citing his team’s difficulties with the “low ropes” exercise, but, he added, the group “got past that,” and then achieved exciting success through good teamwork.
Echoing Nolan, Piedra commented that the camp taught that followers are just as important to success as leaders.  “There are two ways of spreading light,” she observed.  “Be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”  And similarly, she learned that rather than insisting your own view is correct, the path to moving ahead demands finding a way to “meet in the middle.”
Plus Emma noted the support that can be drawn from a team to achieve what appears too difficult.  She being very afraid to go on the high ropes course with her team, but then the pride she ultimately took in having joined them to accomplish it.  Through the various activities the team became “very close,” she said, having fun meeting challenges together.
At the other end of the spectrum of activities during the weekend, Nolan described being confronted with hypothetical moral dilemmas, such as which opposing choice to protect one of two deserving individuals from grievous harm would one make in a sudden emergency, similar to the dilemma presented in the movie classic, “Sophie’s Choice.”  One “learns a lot . . .  [from needing] to defend your views,” he said.  “It’s harder than it seems.”
All three of our RYLA attendees said they would encourage other students to participate in future retreats.  Emma said others should go, because they will “learn a lot.”  Nolan agreed: it helped make him “a new person,” he observed.  And Piedra summed the experience up nicely, by saying it taught “new perspectives.”  
At the end of the presentation, the students were asked, how they would define leadership? 
Their answers had much in common.  Emma responded, a leader “includes as many others” as possible.  Nolan said leadership involves working with others for “common goals.”  And Piedra concluded it means “bringing people together.”