History of RYLA

By Trustee Irving J. “Sonny” Brown
This article was orignally published in the December 1999 issue of The Rotarian.

In 1959, the state government of Queensland, Australia, invited local Rotarians to help plan a festival celebrating Queensland’s upcoming centenary. Learning that Queen Elizabeth II was sending her cousin Princess Alexandra, who was in her early 20s, to the celebration, Rotarians planned activities specifically for the princess’ age group.The gundoo, an aboriginal word meaning “festival” or “fun together,” was a rousing success. More than 300 men and women between the ages of 17 and 23 attended. Encouraged by the event’s popularity with the young attendees, Rotarians saw potential to create a similar annual youth program. With little hesitation, Governor Art Brand of then-District 260 approved the project, and on 2 May 1960, RYLA was born.Australian districts 258 and 260 shared in establishing a committee that developed the official framework of RYLA: to train youth (ages 14-30) in character, leadership, personal development, and good citizenship. These guidelines helped RYLA expand to all Rotary districts in Australia and led to RYLA’s approval as an international program by the RI board at the 1971 RI Convention in Sydney, Australia.

By 1998, RYLA had become an established program in more than half of the 521 Rotary districts worldwide. Also in 1998, then-RI President James Lacy, emphasizing his concern for children, appointed an international RYLA committee, dedicated to improving and expanding this special Rotary program to the entire world. Rotarians with different RYLA experiences were invited to RI headquarters to exchange information and ideas. Participants agreed that RYLA could be improved through regional training workshops.

After District 5520’s first RYLA camp 20 years ago, a camper summed up his RYLA experience in one word, “Camelot.” He wrote the RYLA chairman, “If you know the story of King Arthur, you may recall that as King Arthur was dying in a young man’s arms, he turned to the youth and said, ‘If you learn of anyone that has not heard of Camelot, tell them loudly and clearly that there really was that one wisp of glory called Camelot.'”

“Gundoo” or “Camelot?” RYLA is both and aren’t we fortunate? Dedication, passion and love describe the heart of RYLA, a most remarkable investment that assures Rotary’s future. Every Rotarian should take the opportunity to enjoy this exciting program and life-changing experience.

Irving J. “Sonny” Brown, currently a trustee of The Rotary Foundation (2000-2004), was chairman of the RI RYLA Committee at the time this article was published. He has also served as RI vice-president and as chairman of the 2001 San Antonio International Convention.