Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Reaching for the Future
The Rotary Youth Leadership Award changed my life.
No, I didn't receive it. The Rotarians in my district decided that I was only good enough to be the alternate, and I did not get to go to camp.
Mark Healy, on the other hand, he thought I was good enough. He knew I was good enough. And that's something I cling to.
In 1991, Rotary District 5810 started a leadership camp for 47 young men in their junior year of high school. The next year, it grew to 83 students, and became coed. Camp RYLA 5810 is now the model camp for RYLA international.
In 2006, my hubby was chosen as the male student from his high school to attend. No surprise, he's pretty great. In 2007, he was asked to come back as an Assistant Counselor and received a scholarship in recognition of his hard work, dedication and leadership skills. He has attended camp every year since, save for 2011 when his internship in D.C. kept him from making the trip home.
In March 2012, we were a month away from our wedding. Robert knew he wanted to go to RYLA, and he wanted his new bride (yours truly) to be there with him. We filled out my application, sent it in, and lo and behold, I was not only accepted, but I was assigned to be a counselor. I had NEVER been to this camp except to visit Robert a few times before on Talent Show night. I knew NOTHING of what was expected of me. I knew very little about the layout of the physical camp or the schedule of the activities. I knew a few of the staff members through Robert. I knew Mark. I liked Mark. Mark liked me. Mark decided to give me a shot. I could have peed my pants I was so scared.
But Camp RYLA worked its magic on me, and it's true what they say: You have to experience it to understand it. After two days of some frustrating, confusing and trying staff training, I was thrown into a whole new environment with a wonderful seasoned brother counselor and two excellent assistant counselors. And my life changed.
Since it was my first camp experience, I almost related more to the campers than the staff. I knew what was coming, because they had told me. I knew what the method to the madness was, because they had told me. I knew what the campers were supposed to get out of it, because they had told me. What I did not know was how much I would fall in love with my campers, the program or the RYLA family, even though they told me. I didn't- or couldn't- believe them. I had to experience it for myself, just like the campers.
And magical it was indeed. Mark believed in the RYLA magic. Mark believed in me. Mark wanted to introduce us so that I could start on the long journey I am on now to reach my full potential.
On February 24th, we got a phone call from a fellow staff member that shook us to our core. Mark had passed away. He was like a father to many, guiding, mentoring and loving those whether they knew they needed it or not. I had only known him for a short time and just through Robert, but anyone who knew him knows that he had a way of connecting with you that made you feel like you were the only person in the room. He made me feel important. He made me feel like I belonged when I had felt like such an outsider.
2012 was Mark's last year at camp. It was my first. 2012 will always have a special place in my heart. I married my best friend, I moved out of my home state, and I was initiated into the wonderful world of RYLA. And it hurts me to know that this year's campers, or any future campers, will ever know what camp was like with Mark. Luckily, there is a small army of brilliant, talented, devoted and all around incredible staff working year-round to make sure that what he built lives on. Not just for his sake, but for the sake of all of the campers whom Mark loved so much.
This year, 2013, was known as the Legacy Camp to honor Mark's memory. I believe 100% that everyone who is on staff will continue to honor his memory year-round, camp or no camp. We had a beautiful image presented to us on the last night of camp this year: we were all given candles and they were lit one by one, as we were instructed to share our light with others in life, because when you share your light, the flame doesn't go out, but the brightness is multiplied. Mark was taken so suddenly from this earth, it reminds us all that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. He used his life to impact others and to make a difference to everyone he met. He spread his light far and wide. And I only hope I can do the same.
RYLA equips us all to make an impact in the lives of others. It helps campers break through barriers that are holding them back from accomplishing their dreams. It provides an outlet to step out of their comfort zones. It gives them the opportunity to create lasting friendships within the RYLA family. I am so incredibly blessed to have been given the chance to join this family, to have so many new life-long friends and to have a plethora of unbelievable leaders to look up to and follow their example. I did nothing to earn it. I wasn't chosen by my Rotary club, I wasn't selected to be an AC, I didn't spend years paying my dues. I was simply welcomed with open arms by these incredible people as I felt myself changing under the mesmerizing spell of the RYLA magic.
If you've heard of RYLA, but have never experienced its effects, I don't have the words to describe it to you. And I've been in your shoes. I shed tears over the preparation for my first camp because I was so frustrated over the lack of information I received. No one seemed to be able to prepare me for what I would encounter, not even my husband who had been in RYLA for 6 years. Because they simply couldn't.
But if you've worn those whites and greys, if you know who Susie and Sammy are, if you know what to yell when you hear "Camp RYLA!" and if you know what it's like to walk away with 25+ new brothers and sisters that were strangers 5 days before, then you know I speak the truth. RYLA makes us more aware of our flaws but equips us with the tools to deal with them. It breaks us down and makes us that much stronger. It absolutely terrifies us and gives us the courage to press on. We are better human beings because of RYLA.
So never fear, planet earth. We are cultivating the leaders of tomorrow. We are creating the next successful generation. We are building the character of those who will guide us onward.
Because we are Camp RYLA. And we will always REACH FOR THE FUTURE!!