Hewitt’s dedication to fostering empathy in our students makes our partnership with Riley’s Way Foundation a natural fit. Founded in 2014 by Ian and Mackenzie Sandler to honor the life of their daughter Riley Hannah Sandler, the Foundation’s mission is to spread kindness, compassion, and empathy and “create a youth-led movement that brings kindness to the forefront of what is important to youth and their communities.”
Throughout the year, 10 Hewitt upper school girls work with peers from the Young Women’s Leadership School - Astoria on the Riley’s Way Youth Council, a public and independent school partnership designed to develop kind and compassionate leaders. In addition to leading kindness workshops for third and fourth graders at Riley’s Way partner elementary schools throughout New York City, students on the Youth Council develop authentic friendships with one another, modeling for their own classmates the value of building genuine connections with peers from different schools.
In support of their work with Riley’s Way, the Youth Council has visited Sesame Workshop, where they learned how research on kindness impacts the development of Sesame Street, and met with the Citizens’ Committee for Children to learn about community mapping and how a community’s needs change based on race and socioeconomic status as well as access to education and healthy food. Of her work on the Youth Council, one Hewitt ninth grader shared, “I feel that I have grown as a student, community member, and leader because I have become more empathetic. I have learned what it takes to be a good friend and leader, and everything I do feels more significant and rewarding.”
Each year, the Youth Council engages in a service learning project, and this year the students from Hewitt and the Young Women’s Leadership School - Astoria chose to focus their efforts on hunger in New York City. The girls researched a variety of organizations that are working to combat hunger before choosing to collaborate with City Meals on Wheels, an organization whose mission felt most aligned with that of Riley’s Way. Along with every meal, Council members delivered handmade care packages including a pair of fuzzy socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and an activity book filled with information about the Foundation and word games related to kindness. By delivering meals to homebound seniors, the girls not only served nourishing food to people in need, but also embodied the Foundation’s mission and Riley’s true character by approaching everyone as a potential friend.
Next year, the Riley’s Way Youth Council will continue their work and advise the Foundation as it looks to expand nationally, ensuring that even more young people will have the opportunity to spread kindness and compassion across the country. In the words of a Hewitt sophomore, “What is most rewarding about being on the Youth Council is being able to commit to doing good for the world in a structured way within a community of like-minded people. It’s one thing to be a good person at heart, and it’s another to actually put kindness into action.”