More than 100 high school juniors and seniors climbed a ropes course, planted trees and learned about leadership during the 12th annual Rotary Youth Leadership Awards program in Denton.
Students from across North Texas participated in last week’s leadership conference, which included three days of team building, leadership and community service activities.
“RYLA is the second most critical and important program [in Rotary], right behind our polio program,” said Mary Ann McDuff, chairwoman of the Denton Chapter of the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards program and a board member of Serve Denton, a new program created to assist nonprofit agencies and the community through co-location and organizational cooperation.
Service was a focus of this year’s conference, and the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards program worked in cooperation with Serve Denton and a semi-professional football team, The North Texas Fighters, to aid in the creation of a park and children’s play area for abused women and children behind the Wheeler Center, a pilot project with Serve Denton. The 4,000-square-foot former home of Terrill Wheeler Press at 821 N. Elm St. will be used as a facility for homeless families, an after-hours health clinic for uninsured patients and as office space for at least four groups, including Communities in Schools North Texas, Catholic Charities, Denton Police Department Community Resource Officers and Serve Denton staff. The renovation is expected to cost $250,000, according to a news release.
As the 117 students worked hard in the hot sun to clear branches and till soil, loud laughter and cheering could be heard throughout the park area.
“The service is my favorite part,” said Maceo Williams, a program participant from Mineral Wells.
Students, who planted 40 redbud trees along with other native plants with the help of Keep Denton Beautiful volunteers, are chosen for the program through a rigorous interview process. Many were already active in their local high school Rotary program, Interact.
The program is the only youth Rotary program that takes place in a university setting, allowing youth to experience and take part in discussions about business, local government and service.
“Rotary club is about service above self,” said Erin Hebert, a Lewisville High School senior.
This year was the first for the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards program to embark on a service project off the Texas Women’s University campus. It was a big and successful step to integrate the youth Rotary program into the local Denton community, officials said.
By having the workshop in a university setting, the program has been able to provide students, who would not normally have the opportunity, with an official college visit and assistance with the college application process.
The program provides students with the opportunity to build leadership confidence, experience the importance of community involvement and further develop communication skills.
“I participated this year to expand leadership skills and meet new people,” Hebert said.