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Guide to Rotary Youth Programs

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Whether you are looking for a summer activity, a school club, a scholarship, or an opportunity to study abroad during high school, the Rotary Youth Programs might have what you are looking for. The Rotary has programs such as the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA), the 4-Way Essay and Speech Contest, Interact, and the Rotary Youth Exchange. Each of the programs offer unique experiences that will enhance your leadership skills and communication skills while developing a deeper appreciation and understanding of the Rotary’s motto; “Service-Above-Self”, along with their guiding principles of service, fellowship, diversity, integrity, and leadership.


Read on to learn more about what the Rotary has to offer.

What is Rotary?

Rotary is a global network of over 1.2 million people across the world. There are currently over 35,000 clubs across the world that work together to promote peace, fight disease, support education and literacy, all to make a lasting impact on the world.


What is RYLA?

Rotary clubs across the world host camps and seminars during the summer called the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA). RYLA is called an “award” because Rotary members feel that young people should be rewarded for their leadership, service and commitment to making the world a better place. RYLA is an intensive leadership experience that provides the opportunity to develop your leadership skills while having fun and making connections with other students.


The benefits of attending RYLA include:


  1. Building communication and problem-solving skills.
  2. Discovering strategies for becoming a dynamic leader in your school and community.
  3. Learning from community members, peers and inspirational speakers.
  4. Having fun and making lifelong friendships.
  5. Developing skills to turn motivation into action.


RYLA programs can be a one-day seminar, a three-day retreat, or a week-long camp, but all include activities, workshops and presentations on various topics.


Does RYLA cost anything?

RYLA is usually paid for by the local Rotary Club, but policies can vary by chapter. To find out more about RYLA and any costs that may be associated with it, please contact your local Rotary club.


Don’t just take our word for it:


“I attended RYLA Camp in 2013. I loved the experience! Each day we learned about leadership through active learning activities with a group of friends called our “families”. Throughout the week, you don’t realize how much you grow, but once I got home from camp, I really got to process everything and take in the experience. I got to meet many students who enjoy leadership, build lifelong friendships, and ultimately have fun!” Ramiro Perales, RYLA 2013


“RYLA is more than just a leadership camp, it’s a week of self-exploration. You learn so much about yourself as well as other people. You learn about perception and you gain a greater understanding of others. But above all, you make great, life-long friends that you can depend on.” Kenna, RYLA 2016


What are Rotary Interact Clubs?

Interact Clubs are a branch of the Rotary that brings together 12-18 year olds to develop leadership skills while focusing on the “Service-Above-Self” aspect of the Rotary. Many high schools have chapters of Interact Clubs on campus that bring together students for various community service initiatives.


Each year, Interact Clubs are responsible for at least two projects every year. One must benefit your school or community, and the other must promote international understanding.


Benefits of belonging to an Interact Club include discovering new cultures while promoting international understanding, developing leadership skills in your school and your community, and making new friends across the world.


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Can I start and Interact Club in my school?

Check with your school or local Rotary to find out if there is an Interact Club in your school or in a nearby school that you can join. If you are unable to locate an Interact Club in your area and you’d like to start a club, contact your local Rotary Club to start Interact at your school.


Everything you need to know about how to organize, certify, and manage your club can be found at the Interact Guide for Rotary Club Sponsors and Advisors.


Are there opportunities for me to earn scholarships through the Rotary?

Although most of the Rotary scholarships are for undergraduate or graduate students, the Rotary does sponsor an event called the 4-Way Essay or Speech Contest that could allow you to earn some money for college expenses.


What is the 4-Way Essay or Speech Contest?

The 4-Way Essay or Speech Contest is open to junior high and high school students (depending on the chapter of the Rotary club) and is an opportunity for you to earn some money for college. Students are challenged to write an essay or prepare a speech that answers the fundamental questions Rotarians are guided by.


“Of the things we think, say or do:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?”


Each club sets their own guidelines for the contest so it is important you contact your local Rotary to get accurate information about the contest in your area.


What is the Rotary Youth Exchange Program?

The Rotary Youth Exchange Program is for students ages 15-19 that are sponsored by Rotary Clubs in more than 100 countries. The exchange allows for students to discover another culture, and learn a new language while becoming a global citizen.


There are short-term exchanges that last from several days to three months that usually take place when school is not in session. Many are structured as camps, tours, or homestays, but all allow for students to learn more about another culture and their language which helps develop a better understanding of the world.


Long-term exchanges last an entire academic year, and student attend local schools and live with multiple families during the exchange. The long-term stay allows for students to be fully immersed in the culture and language during the academic school year.


What are the costs for the Youth Exchange Program?

Each program varies, but the costs for room and board, and school fees are covered by the Rotary. Most times, students are responsible for airfare, travel documents such as a passport or visa, and spending money.


If you are interested in applying for the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, contact your local Rotary Club to get more information on the program. Keep in mind, international travel is involved, so allow plenty of time to secure the necessary information and documents needed to be eligible for the program.


Can I host an exchange student rather than travel myself?

Yes! Bringing an exchange student into your home can be extremely rewarding for you and your family. By hosting an exchange student, you are bringing the international experience directly into your home. The host family is responsible for room and board and families are expected to share their lives with the exchange student, immersing them in their lifestyles, involving family, community and cultural activities.




“In our family’s exchange program experience, we were able to expose our children to the different cultures, foods, and languages of the world, giving them a more open-mind growing up. Over the past fifteen years, we have hosted seven exchange students from Eastern Asia to Central Europe and would encourage other families to consider hosting an exchange student to broaden their child’s educational experience.” Edd, host parent


“Living with a host family was a really big learning experience. I got to reflect a lot on my own behavior in the new setting as well as learn a little more about human interaction in general. I also got to make some meaningful bonds, which is always a lovely thing to do.” Sera, Brazil 2016


To learn more about these and other Rotary programs, please visit the Rotary website or contact your local Rotary Club.


To find more information about summer programs, activities, scholarships, or information about studying abroad, please visit our blog.


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Tammy Goerger
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Tammy Goerger is a long-time educator and geo-circle lead for the Joyce Ivy Foundation. She is the mother of three children who attended Yale, Stanford, and Princeton, and she has a passion for helping students achieve their dreams and aspirations. She has been a resource for students and parents about the application process, financial aid, and scholarships. She enjoys sharing her love for music with others and volunteers as an EMT on her local ambulance squad. She strives to teach her students about the importance of community service, as well as the importance of living with an attitude of gratitude.