Gretchen Walker from RYLA To Rotary Club President

Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) is a leadership training experience sponsored and organized by Rotary clubs and districts for youth ages 14-30 years-old. RYLA programs include a one-day seminar, a weekend retreat, and even a week-long camp. Typically, RYLA events will run 3-10 days where young people are presented with opportunities to speak on various subjects, participate in fun activities and visit workshops that cover a variety of topical issues that develop their leadership skills.

Rotary clubs host RYLA events for high school students, colleges, and young professionals. These RYLA events hosted by seasoned Rotarians instill values of leadership, help young people develop critical thinking and problem solving-solving strategies, and teach ethical standards of business practices. Young RYLA participants return to their communities with leadership skills, humanitarian vision, personal empowerment, and values that inspires the next generation of Rotarian peacebuilders globally.

RYLA events help young people develop Rotarian leadership skills that involve humanitarian vision, inclusion, and service above self.

RYLA’s Impact on Young Leaders

One example of how RYLA is making a difference in the lives of young people is Gretchen Walker, a RYLA alumni and current President of the Rotary Club of Portland (Oregon).

“I fell in love with Rotary the very first year I attended RYLA event,” says Gretchen. “My employer was a Rotarian and he recruited me to participate back in 1999. I knew his oldest son had previously participated in RYLA and really enjoyed and benefited from the experience.” Her RYLA experience was sponsored by the East Portland Rotary Club and District 5100. Rotarians Terry Beard and RAGFP Co-Founder Al Jubitz encouraged her to return to the program in District 5100 as counselor and mentor for several years following her first RYLA encounters.

“The program was such a benefit that I wanted to give back,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to learn life skills that you will use throughout your entire life. And you make life-long friends who share a passion for community involvement, business and service above self.”

Gretchen Walker is the President of the Rotary Club of Portland and proud RYLA Alumni.

These RYLA experiences can make all the difference in the lives of young people and help develop the next generations of Rotarian peacebuilders who seek to serve their communities. Gretchen says her own experience in RYLA motivated her to keep pushing herself in her young career where she eventually became Director of Project Accounting at ZGF Architects in Oregon City, Oregon. “RYLA provides not only the opportunity for personal development but the program teaches you how to interact with others in a business environment. I also learned the value of compound interest.”

Gretchen became a Rotarian and served as a co-chair for the RCP’s RYLA program in 2008. RYLA and Rotary’s guiding principles of “seeking acquaintances as opportunities of service above self” now influence her own term as President of the Rotary Club of Portland, and the enduring values she learned in the RYLA program are now being taught to the next generation of Rotarian peacebuilders and even her own children.

“The most important thing I took away from RYLA was the amazing group of friends and support network,” she says. “My introduction to Rotary gave me the confidence and skills I needed to keep pushing myself in my career and personal life. The (Rotarian) values of ‘giving back’ are now values that I seek to instill in my children.”

Watch the Rotary Club of Portland RYLA Video