Building future leaders one student at a time

By Stacy Floden, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

More than sixty students from across western Kentucky participated in the Rotary Youth Leadership Award program in September. The program, partners the Kentucky National Guard with Rotarians to seek out young leaders.

GREENVILLE, Ky. — It’s all about changing lives and that is what the Kentucky National Guard along with the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) program aims to do, one student at a time.

Most people are not born a leader, its skills you develop, but you have to be exposed to the opportunities to be a leader and that is why the RYLA program is offered.

“We take them for four days and push them – with grace, mercy, knowledge, and opportunity.  We do that until they shine,” said Lt. Col. Fred W. Bates V, deputy commander, Garrison Training Center.  “We teach them to go back to their high schools and shine like they were meant to.”

The RYLA program began in 2008. Principals, guidance counselors and Rotarians seek out high school students whom they believe have the potential for leadership and identifies and nominates them to attend.

“We are trying to make a difference. One in the community we serve in, but two, we are always looking for ways of how to expose the next generation to the military whether they go into the military or not,” said Bates. “We want to help them see different aspects of the military.”

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To be considered, the student must be a sophomore with a 2.5 GPA or greater and have a good attendance and discipline record. They should exhibit leadership potential, live in the western Kentucky District 6710 and be sponsored by a rotary club member.

Back in September, around 60 high school students from across western Kentucky attended the program. The Rotarians sponsor the students. The kids don’t pay a dime. RYLA committee runs the program, but the program is at Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center (WHFRTC) facilities. The Kentucky National Guard helps with the field leader reaction course, leadership team building games, and many other activities teaching the students how to work in teams. Adults, volunteers and a junior team leader, a high school student who has attended in the past, lead the four day program.

“RYLA would not be possible without Lt. Col. Bates and I’m not sure we would want to continue without him.  Through the last seven years he has been such an intricate part of this program,” said Gail Story, co-chair of RYLA District 6710. “He has continuously served on our RYLA committee taking his personal and professional time to insure plans are made and the facility is ready for the event.”

Preparation for the event includes scheduling barracks, private sleeping quarters, auditorium, class rooms, co-ordinate cafeteria meals, the annual cook out, staff for the obstacle course, scheduling the Fire Prevention Center, and countless other tasks.  The planning stage for this event is an approximate ten month process.

But facilities aren’t the only thing Bates does.  He is an important part of the opening ceremony, obstacle course event, Lost Dutchman’s strategic program, facility operations and security, service project which was Love the Hungry this year, leads the non-denominational service, and closing ceremonies.

“I keep doing this because it is helping develop the next generation of leaders,” stated Bates. “There are stories of kids who have come to this program, very quiet, not much of a leader. One kid came back with a testimonial and said he is attending West Point and if he hadn’t attended this program, he would have never thought of applying to West Point.”

On the last day of the program, parents are allowed to attend to see what their children have learned. The students do a presentation for their parents and leadership awards are given out. This year the award was named after Lt. Col. Fred W. Bates V.

“After countless hours of personal time and coordinating with the military through his service for our existence at WHFRTC, it was without question the RYLA Leadership Award should be named after Lt. Col Fred Bates,” Story said. “He is the ultimate example of strong, fair, and leadership.  He exemplifies leadership through his interworking with the military, our committee, and the participants that attend RYLA.”

“It was really an honor, I didn’t know the award was going to be named after me,” said Bates. “I was told I was going to help give out the award. Didn’t expect it at all. It was neat, especially seeing the young man who got it.”

Ethan Yount, the Shelby County High School student who received the Fred Bates Kentucky Youth Leadership Award this year, said this has given him the drive to be a better student and to set some higher goals for himself.

“What do you have to lose? If you walk away from this and learn something, great. But if you walk away from it and go hey, I really don’t want to be that person up front but I can be a follower and I know what it takes to be a leader, then it is worth it,” said Bates. “If nothing else, this program will at least allow you to come and learn something about themselves, what type of personality they have or what strength and weaknesses they have and be exposed to the military.”

This year a coin was added to the awards given out, to help bond the RYLA program with the military.  Team leaders chose the participant on their team that showed the most improvement in leadership skills, heeded the call, and the program really changed their life the most and presented them with the Paul Harris coin. Paul Harris was the founder of Rotary.

Story also mentioned that RYLA will be funding a $1,000.00 scholarship program for the leadership award winners and that scholarship will also be named after Bates. “You only meet a certain number of people in your life that truly capture your heart and Lt. Col. Bates is one of those people.  I can truly say I am blessed to know him and RYLA is blessed to have him be a part of this very important program.”