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Camp RYLA connects young leaders

Racole Karels, Tina Scheidecker, Marie Lorenson and Mary Riestenberg, left to right, starting second from left, were presented with certificates of recognition for participating in Camp RYLA this past summer. Making the presentation was Perham Rotary Club President Jean Johnson, far left. Deb Spiczka/FOCUS

Bitter cold, snowy landscapes and slippery roads all melted into summer days in the minds of the Perham High School students who, at a recent Perham Rotary meeting, recalled the time they spent at Camp RYLA this past July.

RYLA, which stands for Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, is a program created by Rotary International as a way to encourage strong leadership in youth.

The RYLA program sponsored by Rotary International District 5580, the Perham area’s district, consists of a one-week conference called Camp RYLA, which is held each July.

This year, PHS students Tina Scheidecker, Marie Lorenson, Racole Karels and Mary Riestenberg were selected to attend the camp. The girls were chosen by a committee of Rotarians based on their leadership skills, academic achievement and involvement in the community.

“I enjoyed family time the most. The camp had 18 ‘families,’ with about six girls and two boys assigned to each one. In the beginning of the week, our family was very shy, because we did not know one another. As the week developed, our friendships grew and we always had thought-provoking things to talk about,” said Karels of her experience.

“I still keep in touch with my ‘family,’ too,” Maria Lorenson stated in an email interview.

Lorenson said she felt the most valuable leadership skill she acquired through RYLA was staying true to who she is and not worrying about what others think.

For Mary Riestenberg, “Lollipop Moments” are what she will always remember from RYLA.

According to Drew Dudley, a leadership expert (TED Talks), a “Lollipop Moment” is a moment where someone says or does something that fundamentally makes a life better.

“Just imagine if everyone gave only lollipop moments out, instead of rude and profane messages”, said Riestenberg, “The world would be a happier, more loving place.”

All of the RYLArians who responded for the interview agreed that attending Camp RYLA was an amazing experience and they would encourage others to send in an application for consideration.

The Perham Rotary Club will be considering applications again in the spring. For more information, visit