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RYLA is a Four Letter Word

I like the things I do. I go running because it makes me feel strong and I write because it clears my head. I run The Smile Project because it brings me immense joy and I volunteer for different organizations in the city because it gives life meaning.

When I first moved to New York, I decided I wanted to be very mindful and intentional with how I spent my time and the people I spent my time with. I wanted to work hard and play harder. Most of all, I wanted to make time for the things and people that really mattered.

Perhaps that’s why when I told my friends that I was going back to western Pennsylvania for 10 days to work as a counselor at a leadership camp, they were a bit confused.

“You’re using your vacation days to go work at a camp in Pennsylvania?”

Absolutely. There is no place I’d rather be.

To quote the Rotary website, “Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) is an intensive leadership experience organized by Rotary clubs and districts where you develop your skills as a leader while having fun and making connections.”

When we were each 17, my older brothers and I attended the camp. To say it changed my life is an understatement. Last year, I finally tried to put that into words in this blog post.

This year, I traded the subway for endless stretches of cornfields and made my way up to RYLA once more. It was, once again, even more amazing than I could have dreamed. I could spend paragraphs writing about the magic of the week. I could talk about the counselors – how most of them I haven’t seen in nearly a year and how wonderful it was to give each of them a hug. I could talk about how these people make me laugh harder than anyone but at the same time, remain the people I feel I am my most authentic self with.

I could talk about the campers and how every single one of them shows incredible strength, bravery, and growth throughout the week. I could talk about how I watch them laugh and lead and love and how I am certain our future is on the right track.

I could talk about the magic of the entire thing. I could talk about feeling like you’re home. I could talk about knowing that as long as you have your RYLA family you will never be alone.

I’ve debated this week’s Wednesday blog for a while now – knowing I would never be able to properly articulate what this camp and what this week means to me. I also knew that there is nothing else I could possibly write about.

As I mentioned in the aforementioned post (linked again here). RYLA gave me the confidence and ambition to dream big dreams. It also gave me the support system to make these big dreams a reality.

To emphasize one more time: Without RYLA there is no Smile Project. Without The Smile Project, you’re not reading this.

I like the things I do. I run for strength and write for clarity. The Smile Project brings me joy and volunteering brings me peace. I do RYLA for all of the above. I do RYLA because it makes me strong through vulnerability. It gives me direction through thoughtful reflection. It makes me happier than I could ever convey through words and it gives me the courage to carry on in small acts of love and kindness. If I’m being truly mindful about how I spend my time and the people I surround myself with, there is no more important place for me to be than a week-long camp in western Pennsylvania.

When I sat down and decided I would write about RYLA – I made a sarcastic joke in my head about how those are the four most important letters in my life – even moreso than letters like LOVE. It only took me a moment to realize they were synonymous. RYLA is love.

To Rotary, to RYLA, to my co-counselors, to all campers past and present – thank you.

Love always,


Pictured: Campers answering the age old question..

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