Thursday July 2nd to Sunday July 5th 2015

As the sun rose over the ranch of Rotarian Carman Hendry – one could feel the excitement of the Leaders and Rotarians waiting for 38 boys and girls to register for RYLA camp. Known as RYLA Lakelse this camp used to be held at a beautiful lake property owned by the Kinsmen. This property is currently in need of repair and not suitable for our RYLA camp. Instead of cancelling as we had to in 2013 we went ahead with plans at this beautiful ranch. So in 2014 and this year our camp took on a new life.
This RYLA is for Grades 8 to 10 who are students in the age group of 13 to 15 with some 16 year olds thrown in. As these students were dropped off by their parents and guardians on Thursday July 2nd you could see and feel their hesitancy and caution about coming in to what is call a Leadership Camp run by Rotarians. The Leaders for camp have already attended one, two or three RYLA camps of their own and have met for many hours to plan and prepare for this day. The enthusiasm of the leaders was infectious from the first moment. Each student was welcomed and shown which dorm or tent they were assigned and where to leave their belongings. After our opening welcome from the leaders…the former mayor of Prince Rupert kicks off with a presentation to the group about what it was like for him growing up and what it is like now – the changes – good and bad. All the Rotarians are introduced to the students and any questions answered. The facilitators then discuss the rules and expectations of RYLA camp. The rest of the afternoon is built with each team discussing their “flag” that they will make and going through team building activities.

That first evening as I sit and listen to the teams practice their skits and then perform, I see the first changes in these young people. No longer individuals but part of a team.

Friday morning breakfast and every morning thereafter is usually a time of fellowship for the students, where they eat some wonderful breakfasts and share stories about their families. Cell phones are not encouraged at camp. This in turn encourages more sharing in the old fashioned mode of – talking face to face.

This day is filled with Decision Making, Ethics, 4-way test, World Village – Talent show preparation – Random acts of kindness then on to a building project - In the past Rotarians and students have built chairs, tables and benches. This hands on project instills confidence in the belief that “they can do” and it is quite exciting to watch the benches come together and the pride of the students grow with every nail and screw. After dinner on this first full day – presentations of their experiences when doing “random acts of kindness” and their reflections.

Saturday brings events on the Lake – yes Lakelse – where the Rotarians and Leaders get to watch their students be involved with events such as Dragon Boating, Search and Rescue events and just plain swimming and relaxing. By the time we return to camp – singing on the bus – everyone is a bit weary but so excited about new skills they have mastered through today’s events.

Then just when you may think there is no more energy to expend…..RYLA Olympics takes place and mountains of energy and excitement is expended in making sure “their” team runs the fastest, slides the quickest and just plain finishes. As the sun starts to go down on what now is their last evening together – the students start to wonder how the weekend went so fast and they show their talents and friendship to their fellow campers and their Rotarian audience. The talent show is a wonder in itself. Everyone has a talent. Everyone is appreciated. Everyone has new friends. Sunday morning breakfast to me – the author- seems a little quieter. It seems like those who were cautious and guarded on Thursday afternoon are now sad to be leaving this wonderful ranch and their new friends.

The students tidy their dorms, empty their tents, while an army of Rotarians from Smithers and the two Terrace clubs come in to help take down the tents and put all the necessary tables and chairs, mattresses, etc. in a van to be returned to the wonderful schools and business that made the donations.

By 1 p.m. their families arrive and the hugging and crying gets louder. No it is not that they are excited to see their parents, it’s the students with each other. They have new friends. They don’t know if they will meet again. They are the unlikely ones to be friends – hugging, crying, and sharing texts. I always think that I will get used to the changes in these wonderful young people, the changes that happened in only three days, and three nights together. No my fellow Rotarians – it is truly amazing and hard to put into words. As I watch the students leave with their parents I am thanked as part of this larger group of Rotarians – I am thanked that their shy child is now not – that their quiet child is now sharing with others – that their child has changed and grown in a good way. …and that is why RYLA Lakelse came to be and why I hope CONTINUES to be …..over the years to come.

Rotarian Lesley Erasmus.