How Interning for Riley’s Way Greatly Impacted Me

By: Brenda, Riley’s Way Senior Intern, The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem

Kindness, empathy, leadership, and making connections are the core values of Riley’s Way Foundation. Through these values, more than 1,000 children from private and public schools have been positively impacted as they learn to spread kindness.

I myself have been greatly impacted as I began to intern for Riley’s Way three weeks ago. I had the chance to meet amazing people, like my supervisors, Laura Kikuchi, and Lauren Shenkman, who are very dedicated to this non-profit organization. I also had the great privilege to meet Ian and Mackenzie Sandler, the co-founders and Riley’s parents. Their excitement prompted me to stay connected to Riley’s Way by finding ways to help their organization expand, so they can continue to influence young individuals, like me, to spread kindness and to use empathy within their daily lives.

I also had the chance to sit down with the team of consultants from Community Research Exchange who have been helping the Riley’s Way team since 2014. They spoke about what they wanted students to get out of Riley’s Way, including the Youth Leadership Retreat they will be hosting this upcoming fall. I saw the hard work everyone puts into a non-profit organization because they want to see the successes of Riley’s Way to impact multiple communities. As Ian said, “I couldn’t do all of this by myself. It takes a community for something to be created because you can’t just do it on your own.” This is a powerful piece of advice everyone needs to hear because one person can’t do everything. We need to be willing to work together in order to have a positive influence on others.

Another big takeaway I took from Ian’s conversation was to “dream big.” His passion to create leaders and honor the values his young daughter, Riley used, is what prompted him to create this organization. He didn’t allow himself to give up because it was a challenge for him to get a group of people who shared the same passion and ideals as him, and thanks to his dream, he was able to create this beautiful network.

During my time at my internship, I learned that one is never too young to raise social awareness through the lens of empathy. From the Browning Panther Tank, I learned the importance of teaching children at a very young age to use empathy and spread kindness to others. Because of this, I tell my sisters that small acts of kindness can lead to a greater change within my society. I learned that I just don’t need to teach my sisters, but I can teach the students who I tutor to be empathetic towards others. I am inspired to continue spreading kindness in any possible way that I can because if we look at things through a lens of empathy, then we will feel connected and united as we slowly solve our differences. I feel inspired to come out of my comfort zone in college to talk about kindness and empathy because the lack of learning about these two attributes is what makes people separated when we all should come together as one.

Now that I am heading off to college, I hope that I can continue to use Riley’s Way’s values to promote positive change as I join the University of Rochester community. I hope that during my four years there, I can influence people to use kindness and empathy. I also hope to possibly volunteer at The Young Women’s College Prep Charter School of Rochester, which was founded by Laura Rebell Gross, a Riley’s Way Foundation Board member and another amazing person I was able to meet through my internship. This way, I can be able to slowly help answer the Foundation’s question about “How can we solve social issues through the lens of empathy?” It starts with being kind to ourselves. I’m excited to continue to spread kindness and help solve different social issues through the lens of empathy.

Laura, Brenda, and Lauren, on Brenda’s last day