Rotary Youth Leadership Awareness Conference


Rotary Youth Leadership Awareness Conference 'Floats' Again

Doug McChesney, RYLAC Chair
The leaves start to turn, a morning chill hangs over the land and lake. The mystic sound of the Tibetan ’dung chen’ or long horn with a Native wood flute wafts over the air in wakening of some 55 grade eleven northern District 6290 delegates who struggle to part the warmth of their sleeping bags. We are about to start the final day of the Ontario, Canada sector’s four-day Leadership Awakening experience.
The activity began, as it usually does on Thursday, as Rotarians from the Sault North Rotary Club and a team of facilitators (old friends by now) drift into Camp Bil-O-Wood, a summer residence for countless families and youth from several countries over many decades, just north of Blind River. We are about 100 miles east of home base but it feels like home.  The students, many arriving by chartered bus, are here by 6:00 pm to settle into their cabins –yes, we have toilets and some light- for the “journey” that awaits them over the next three days.
The “journey” has several facets: there is the thematic metaphor of the Canadian ascent of Mount Everest in 1986 that poses many significant decision-making points, opportunities for resolution of situations, and discovering of one’s personal leadership qualities and desires. There is also the posing of personal elements of the lives of the Rotarians whose personal witness in their lives and means of coping, leading, and reflection provide the delegates with food for thought and opportunities for growth.
Let’s not forget the face-to-face intensive activity with other delegates gathered from all corners of our Canadian part of the District: Wawa and Chapleau in the north, Sault Ste Marie and Central Algoma to Blind River and Elliot Lake, representing all secondary schools in both Public and  Catholic School Boards. They eat, laugh, study, and play together unfettered in their discourse by cell phones, Ipads, computers and the like. This is an environment where the individual becomes part of the activity and discussion group as well as the whole assembly.
We carve pumpkins together, strive in sports, hikes, boat-building, and campfires. Emerging leaders take over spontaneously to guide their friends to new achievements such as the students’ impromptu performance of  Michael Jackson’s Thriller on Saturday evening –rehearsed in the dark at the beach to the light of lanterns and a few little used cell phone lights.
The boats, created by the activity groups from cardboard, bits of duct tape, glue etc. were unveiled early Sunday morning, after our ‘Yurt Circle and Close’, prior to the actual races. Several boats, each paddled by a delegate, made the trip twice (still afloat) to cap off a remarkable experience –one which none will forget and that we as Rotarians will continue to offer each autumn.