Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) began in Queensland, Australia in May of 1960 by Rotary districts 260 and 258. The committee created a program to train youth (14-30) in character, leadership, personal development, and good citizenship. RYLA was approved by the Rotary International board in 1971 as an official program.
Rocky Mountain RYLA began in 1984; after hearing about the success of RYLA from a Texan District Governor (DG), DG Stan Black asked Virgil Holtgrewe from Lakewood to attend the Dos Rios, NM camp with a few boys (girls were not allowed). As a result of the pilot project's success, Stan and Virgil as well as Warren Holmes spent 1986 planning for the first District 545 RYLA Camp that took place July 26-31, 1987. There were 102 attendees and 15 Rotarians involved from Colorado, Wyoming, and Northern Nebraska. By 1988 the program grew to include 120 participants. In the early 1990's Districts 5450 and 5440 were separated, though the District Governors elected to still hold RYLA together.
In 1999, several members of RMRYLA attended a national RYLA convention discussing best practices. It came to their attention that District 5550 in Canada had piloted a YRYLA program, targeting 7th grade students. After 15 years of strong success with the RYLA program in the Rocky Mountain RYLA, District Governor Diane Kessel (District 5450) wanted to explore the concept of a YRYLA program for inclusion in the program of Rocky Mountain RYLA. In her concept, YRYLA would be an action-packed program of activities that help build confidence and leadership skills (problem solving games, challenge course, zip line, skits, group discussions and team building activities) for youth between 7th and 8th grade.
In 2001 Diane, Mat Matson from Conifer and Doug Armbrust from Greeley agreed to create a similar camp to pilot in 2002. Jim Hoops and Junior Weed-Ziegler were engaged in the task of formatting YRYLA to be appropriate for youth between 7th and 8th grade. The original conference took place in July of 2002 with 58 students from Colorado, Wyoming, and western Nebraska. In 2007, YRYLA grew to 120 attendees, 12 senior counselors, 12 junior counselors, and 5 staff.
Currently, RYLA serves 384 and YRYLA serves 288 conferees, impacting over 670 young lives each summer.