Teen-to-Teen Letter Writing Event with Riley’s Way Council

By: Gabby, Riley’s Way Council Member, The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria

Two of Riley’s Way leading values are kindness and empathy. For the better part of this school year, my council members and I (half from The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria and half from The Hewitt School) brainstormed and planned how we could implement these values into a project that could give back to our community. After careful deliberation, we agreed on two projects: holding a letter writing event for teen immigrants in detention centers and filming a video in which we’d interview immigrants. Both of which had the intent of rectifying the harmful misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding immigrants.

On May 2nd, my school (TYWLS of Astoria) hosted a the letter writing event. In all honesty, leading up to it I was feeling nervous. Well, not entirely. I really liked the idea of writing letters to immigrants in detention centers, because it felt so aligned with Riley’s Way values – I was excited to send messages of support to people who really needed them. While I felt that this project was a good idea, I was nervous about how people would receive it. I asked myself, “Will people come?” “Will they be excited?” “Will they even want to write these letters?” On the day of the event, I set aside my fears so that I and my fellow Riley’s Way Council members could prepare. As we set up the tables and hung up posters, people began to trickle in, and before we knew it, it was time to present. This is when I knew that the event was all worth it.

Students sharing supplies to write letters

During a portion of the presentation, we asked students to discuss with their neighbor what it feels like to be detained. I walked over to a group of middle schoolers from Girls Inc. (a program that focuses on teaching young girls to value themselves, take risks, and discover their strengths). I asked them what they thought about the presentation so far, specifically their thoughts on immigrant detention centers. At first, they were shy, but with some gentle nudging, their thoughts and ideas practically spilled out of their mouths. Not only did they share how they thought immigrant detention centers were wrong (they learned that 1,700 teens were locked up in a detention center in Homestead, Florida), but I could hear in their tones that they were passionate about it! My fears were replaced with happiness and hope. I could see that they were trying to empathize with these immigrants and understand how it might feel if they were in their shoes. Once the presentation was done, the room was abuzz. People were mingling, signing petitions, laughing, having fun, and through it all were helping to make the world a kinder place. Watching people, specifically young people, come together for a cause so much bigger than themselves, I knew the event was a success.

A letter to a teen in the detention center

In the end, over 80 students from different grades and schools showed up, we received over 200 letters, and we helped keep Riley’s Way’s mission thriving by sending support to those in need of it and spreading some kindness.

TYWLS Astoria and The Hewitt School Riley’s Way Council