In 2011, I was gifted an incredible opportunity – a chance to attend Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA) Camp. RYLA is a leadership and personal development camp that take place in communities around the world. It remains one of the most influential and life-changing experiences of my entire life.
In 2016, I was gifted another incredible opportunity – a chance to work at RYLA. I’ve been counseling at RYLA for four summers now and every year I am reminded of what a privilege it is to be surrounded by passionate and inspired young people.
One component of RYLA is “Discussion Group.” As a counselor, I have anywhere from 8 – 12 rising high school seniors in my group and we meet each day for, well, discussion.
On the last day of camp, I do three activities with my kids.
One for each other.
One for themselves.
And one for me.
For each other, we each write our name on a piece of scrapbook cardstock before passing the paper around the circle. This gives every camper the opportunity to write a small note of thanks or appreciation for the friendships they have formed with each individual group member.
For themselves, I have them write a letter to their future self – a pep talk of sorts. They seal the letter in a self-addressed envelope and I hold on to them (to be mailed at a later date).
And for me.
For me, I ask them to never forget how much they matter. How important they are to me. How much they bring to the world just by showing up every single day.
I give them each a small notebook – not very different from the ones that I use for my daily Happiness is posts. I ask them to do something for me. To use the journal – not necessarily for daily Happiness is but for something. To reflect on their gratitude. To record small joys. To have a safe space for words or drawings or whatever.
And I ask them to remember that their RYLA family is always there. I tell them I love them. Because I do. And I ask them to look out for one another. They say they will. And I know they will. Because they do.
To all my Group L kids of past and present, thank you for being the amazing young people you are. I leave a piece of my heart with each of you every year and I feel so grateful that I get so much of my heart back.