Life is usually uneventful, moving from one day to the next in blissful normalcy until something happens and everything changes. It is in these moments, and the years following, where we can find resilience, hope, and purpose.
My moment was a phone call in the middle of the night in the summer of 2014 telling me I needed to get to the hospital. By morning, I was figuring out how to tell my wife that our oldest child, our beautiful and kind-hearted daughter Riley, was gone.
Life changes in the blink of an eye.
My journey since that awful day in 2014 has been to adjust to my new reality and to recognize that I am in much less control of many things. A paradox in loss is that you come out of the haze with a different lens on the world. In my prior life, my focus involved promotions and monetary rewards. I was always focused on the path ahead while missing the simple joys in front of me. My healing process has involved tremendous amounts of self-reflection and a desire to honor our daughter, Riley, who, above all, loved her friends and was unwaveringly kind. With the help of a wonderful group of people, we built Riley’s Way Foundation. Our goal is simple: change the world, if slowly, by providing the infrastructure and support to youth to become kind leaders and bring lasting change to their communities.
Today, more than ever, we all need a sense of purpose in our lives. Pandemic research teaches us that people need to know three things in a time of crisis: 1) they are doing their best to keep their family safe 2) they are receiving honest communication 3) they have a purpose in this time of crisis.
For some, this unfortunately means that you or someone you know is impacted by COVID-19 and your purpose is to help them directly. Many of you are serving as essential workers, fighting this virus on the front lines. You are all true heroes and your purpose is right in front of you each day. For others, you may find yourself home, looking to find positive ways to fight this global pandemic and its social, economic, and health impacts.
At Riley’s Way, we find purpose in supporting the next generation of kind leaders. We focus our work on a series of local and national programs that create a scaffolding for teens around the country to make a difference in their communities based on intentional kindness and empathy and forging meaningful connections. One of our flagship programs, the Call for Kindness, awards grants to teen-led projects that inspire kindness, strengthen communities, and bring people together. They also join a network of Fellows from across the country in the Riley’s Way Kind Leadership Series, comprising mentorship, professional development, and peer-learning.
On May 6th, what would have been Riley’s 15th birthday, we announced 22 new Call for Kindness Fellows. I can think of no better tribute to Riley than supporting these inspiring teens. The winners are from 19 different states and range in age from 13 to 19. They include programs to empower young women in STEM, make prosthetic hands to distribute to those in need, amplify the work of teen artists of color, break barriers for immigrant communities, and make superhero blankets for hospitalized children. Like so many of us, these young people are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and finding renewed purpose. Some, like Urban Beet from the Washington DC area, have created new programs such as Free Little Farms to give underserved families and those who are especially affected by COVID-19 a way to grow their very own vegetables. The kits include everything needed to grow vegetables, and also handwritten letters of love and support. These incredible teens have already forged partnerships with several local food drives and homelessness organizations in hopes of assisting hundreds of people in the coming weeks. Other projects, like last year’s Call for Kindness winners, Shaylee and Wynter from Oregon, who started a We Dine Together club at their school to make sure no one sits alone at lunch, have continued to make sure their classmates are connected during COVID-19 by hosting online trivia nights and checking in on individual students.
It gives us hope, and purpose, to know so many young people are working daily in these uncertain times to make the world a better, kinder, more connected place.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead