Interning at Riley’s Way

By: Amber, Intern, Riley’s Way Council Alumna

I have been a part of Riley’s Way for over three years. Riley’s Way has been a constant for me as I’ve grown up and changed throughout high school. Now, I am a graduate of the Nightingale-Bamford School heading off to (online) college in the Fall. I am an alumna of the Nightingale/TYWLS of East Harlem Riley’s Way Council and a 2019 Call for Kindness Winner as a co-founder of RPRSNTD, a virtual book club platform for teens reading authors of color. As I have grown into the person I am today, I have taken on new leadership roles at Riley’s Way, shaping the programs I was a part of. I have cultivated my own definition of kindness. I believe kindness is radical. We exercise compassion and empathy in our social justice movements by centering the voices of marginalized and oppressed communities who have been silenced and work towards justice with those communities. To culminate my time with Riley’s Way, as an intern this summer, I had the opportunity to take on a meaningful role within the organization by working on projects that allowed me to leave a lasting legacy and stay involved far beyond my high school years.

This summer, I worked on three projects: creating a Youth Advisory Council, helping to expand the Buddy Reading Program, and developing and evaluating the impact of the Riley’s Way Councils. Through all of these projects, I was able to create and shape the very changes I hoped to see as a student at Riley’s Way and take on a leadership role in doing that. I was able to work independently on all of these projects with support from the amazing Riley’s Way staff. Even though I was working independently, I was working with a collective of the Riley’s Way community, reaching out to students, alumni, and staff for advice, support, and guidance. I cultivated partnerships with adults at Riley’s Way that allowed me to speak my mind. I have come to learn how important and necessary it is to really listen to others and genuinely create the changes that they envision.

Working to create the Youth Advisory Council was an experience that taught me about how to create a program from scratch that centers youth voices. I worked on this project with Christine O’Connell to exemplify youth leadership by sharing valuable perspectives on Riley’s Way programs through shared decision-making. Youth Advisory Council members will help envision the future of Riley’s Way programming and provide crucial perspectives on the organization and its mission of empowering young leaders to use kindness and empathy to create meaningful connections and positive change. Working to strengthen the Riley’s Way Councils taught me the importance of effectively surveying and interviewing community members. Taking the time to read survey responses and scheduling calls with Council members allowed me to see the Councils from a variety of perspectives that helped me rethink how the Councils would function, especially in a virtual format. I was reminded how important checking in on each other is to the values of the Councils, and how much more relevant that is during a global pandemic. Sharing these thoughts with Lauren Shenkman led to the creation of an optional drop-in Zoom session every week for members of all Councils to unwind and bond! Working to expand the Buddy Reading Program with Nya Marshall taught me about how to create curricula for younger kids that represent students of color. Together, we created a program that can continue to grow and expand across the U.S.

All of these projects will allow me to continue to be a part of Riley’s Way in different ways in the future, and I’m beyond excited to see what’s to come.