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Rotary Inspires Youth, or Perhaps Youth Inspires Rotary

Westport Sunrise Rotary member Justin Phillips introduced six participants in a just ended Advanced Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (ARYLA) conference to the club on Friday. ARYLA is a leadership training program for people between 19 and 29. It builds on and expands RYLA, a leadership program offered regularly to high school students across the country.

The meeting’s guests were part of a larger group that participated in the conference held at Dolce Conference Center in Norwalk from July 25th to July 29th.

Phillips chaired the conference and led the programming. It offered motivational speakers, group projects and activities whose purpose was to help the participants learn about themselves, about leadership, about community service and see a world larger than their experiences.

ARYLA is also a process to “look for emerging leaders” and for new and younger Rotarians.

He complimented the participants saying “they have already exceeded our short term expectations… I have a new found respect for the leaders of tomorrow.”

The six young people who came to talk about their experiences were Alex Levine, James Charolet, Max Needham, Michael Violette, Laura Dal Alva and Katherine Galezowski. While all had some Rotary related affiliation, none knew much about what Rotary is and does.

Before the conference each participant was asked to write down their passion and were then grouped by their choice for an ice breaking and group building exercise.

Each group developed a project employing their passion, one they could introduce into a community. Ms. Dal Alva’s group created a program using music and food to bring a community together to raise money for its schools. “Arts are important, though they are often the first to get cut.” A larger belief is that it is important to “help kids get music into their lives.”

Ms. Galezowski’s group developed a project to address the global water crisis (97 percent of the earth’s water is saline, and much of the remaining three percent is inaccessible or unusable), but not until they overcame one of the conference’s focal issues – selecting a leader.

“Everyone wanted their own idea,” then added that as they got to know each other they learned to compromise, to work together, and perhaps even reset some priorities. The discussion drew out individual take aways.

Charolet added that “we’re not too young to make a difference.”

Violette said he had learned the importance of leadership generally and of listening, “particularly when you’re put in a difficult situation.”

When asked about their favorite speaker, Levine said “Mike Jaffe.”  He told the group that Jaffe worked at a job he hated and took out his misery on everyone around him. He was particularly unhappy about leaving before he could have breakfast with his children, then returning only as they were going to bed.

One day he said “I can’t live like this.” He decided to have breakfast with his children and leave just a few minutes late. He pushed off the day, then one morning surprised his family by sitting down with them to eat.

That day was September 11, 2001. One of the planes flew right into his office.

Jaffe became a life coach. He passed on one simple lesson he had learned: “act now, not tomorrow.”

Levine learned “a good leader listens.” He said that by applying ARYLA’s lessons he has taken greater responsibility and built relationships with the college interns he supervises, “and bettered myself by bettering others.”

What was most difficult?  For Galezowski it was their map project.  Three groups were each given one part of a map and told to put them together and permitted to communicate only by passing notes.

No instructions were given.  Because this exercise followed a competitive one each group started by trying to control the complete map.  Only when they decided cooperation was more effective did they complete the exercise.

She said the conference’s exercises put everyone into some uncomfortable situations, ones meant to “push you out of your bubble.”  This taught her to accept others a bit more and be less judgmental.

Galezowski summed up what ARYLA meant to the participants: “after five days we are family.”

Phillips, too, summed up, calling the results “awesome,” and saying he was impressed by what the participants had absorbed.

Roy Fuchs