Taylor Swift once said, “No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy behind.” And this wonderful legacy was left by Riley Hannah Sandler, a girl who lived by kind and empathetic values. Her empowering legacy of kindness spread to over 70 teenage girls this weekend, who will carry this on for generations to come.
This weekend, over 70 young female leaders around the country gathered at the 2019 Riley’s Way Foundation Youth Leadership Retreat in Shandaken, NY. It was truly a rewarding experience.
Being in a room full of passionate changemakers who shared similar values and visions was super revitalizing. We all shared a common goal: to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I was motivated to learn how I could make a powerful impact in my community. Throughout the weekend, I conversed with many of my female peers to learn about new initiatives and programs that are being developed to help people in need. Ultimately, I really gained a lot of knowledge in the realms of relationship building and service-learning, which I hope to share with youth in the Tampa Bay community.
I think the most fulfilling aspect of the Retreat was the peer-led workshops. The workshops I attended were “Service in Your Community” facilitated by my fellow SSP mates (Anna, Catherine, Delaney, Madeleine, and Sofia) and “Self-Love: The Womaze App” facilitated by Hannah. Subsequently, I participated in discussions surrounding social injustices as well as ones about self-esteem and respect. I left these presentations equipped with special gifts—messages of compassion and resilience—which evoked feelings of empowerment. I hope to pass these gifts on to the next generation of leaders as I continue the never-ending cycle of kindness.
As a mental health advocate and research intern, I am very honored to have received the opportunity to co-lead a workshop on social media and mental health among teens. It was very enriching to educate such a diverse audience on community-building and connectivity through, a popular tool, social media. All of the girls were super enthusiastic to learn about mental healthcare, specifically in the show 13 Reasons Why, which is very popular among teens. They listened to an eloquent interview with Dr. Rona Hu (who worked on the production of 13 Reasons Why), who provided insight on mental health resource accessibility in schools and shared her powerful story. Moreover, they heard from Dr. Nina Vasan, who shared the impact of the Brainstorm Laboratory and messages of motivation to engage teens in action plans for erasing the stigma around mental health. I couldn’t have initiated this workshop without the help of Aayushi Jain, the co-leader of the workshop who flew in all the way from California to present with me. I’m so thankful for the support and guidance from Dr. Vasan, Dr. Aragam, Dr. Hu, and Dr. Hammond, and others — all of whom are such fascinating role models.
If this weekend showed me one thing, it is that youth CAN enact change. Together, we can make a positive difference. We were all so inspired by Mr. Ian Sandler’s powerful story and Riley’s commitment to kindness. By the end of the Retreat, each of us embodied a part of Riley’s kind and empathetic values. And we hope to dedicate our lives to exemplifying these values and spreading Riley’s legacy of kindness to future generations.
– Anika Nayak