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Call For Kindness: Teens Across America Are Sought To Inspire

[Feb. 3, 2021: Tim Moran,]

Ideas to bring more kindness into the world are needed, and teenagers across the country can bring about positive change with the help of a national nonprofit's annual "Call for Kindness" contest.

The Riley's Way Foundation has opened nominations for the contest, which seeks new ideas from people ages 13-19. Up to 30 projects will be chosen to win up to $3,000 each and leadership development fellowship for all members of the group projects selected.

Students from high schools and colleges are encouraged to apply. In group projects, at least one member needs to be in their teen years.

"We know teenagers have a lot of amazing ideas but may not have the funding to get something started," Christine O'Connell, executive director of Riley's Way, told Patch. "Young people have the passion, the ideas and the drive to make a difference in their communities."

O'Connell said the Riley's Way Foundation will give up to $3,000 each to get selected projects off the ground. Members of the project then will become part of a fellowship in which they learn skills from a leadership course "and realize there are other kids out there who want to make a difference, too," she said.


The "Call for Kindness" is in its third year, and it has already produced some impactful projects thought up by high school and college students.

Among them is the Flint Justice Partnership, a community resource that helps the people of the Michigan town in the midst of a water crisis that has gone on for nearly seven years.

Michael Ruprecht, now 20, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, is part of the group that set up the Flint project, one of 22 to be awarded the Riley's Way funding a year ago.

"After receiving support from Riley's Way, our organization continued to listen to Flint community members so that we could better understand their needs," Ruprecht said in a statement. "After speaking to many community members and organizations, we partnered with multiple organizations to launch our resource page. The page is a concise list of resources for the Flint community, ranging from health care to water filter resources."

Then there's the "Purple America" project that connects high school students from across the United States to have discussions online about some of the leading political and social controversies in the news today.


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The Seattle-based idea that was among the 15 projects to get help from the Riley's Way Foundation in its inaugural 2019 contest. The "purple" reference, O'Connell said, is a nod to bringing teenagers, both conservative and liberal, together, as purple is the color that results from the mix of red and blue.

This year, Riley's Way will award help for 30 "Call for Kindness" projects, O'Connell said. Applications will be accepted online through April 7. A decision on the ones chosen for the grant and fellowship is expected to come in May.

Five of the projects selected this year will need to specifically address food insecurity, an issue that's become more pressing since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last March.

"So many people are experiencing it during COVID," O'Connell said. "Food pantries are overstretched. So this is an issue we need to give extra attention to. There's certainly a growing need for solutions to this important issue that has only been amplified by the pandemic."

The contest, as a project of Riley's Way, is held in memory of Riley Sandler. Riley was a 9-year-old New York City girl set to enter fourth grade in 2014 when she suffered a fatal respiratory arrest while asleep overnight at a summer camp. Her memory lives on through a national program that embodies her kind spirit, O'Connell said.

The foundation formed in her name has a goal to promote kind leadership, focusing on teenagers through initiatives such as the Call for Kindness.

Ideas can be big or small, O'Connell said. They can tackle anything from pressing equity and social justice issues to building meaningful connections at the local level.

Other previous winners include a school club in Oregon that makes sure no one sits alone at lunch, and teens who planted community gardens in Georgia.

"This year has taught us that kindness and community are more important than ever," O'Connell said. "The Call for Kindness fellows are shining examples of kind leadership, and their stories inspire all of us to be better to each other."



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