The Challenge: Millions of people are living below the poverty line in the United States, many of them children who are trying to go to school.
The Solution: Rainbow Pack, a nonprofit organization giving low-income elementary school students much-needed school supplies.
The Teen Hero Who’s Making This World A Better Place: Riley Gantt, who was just 10 years old when she befriended a girl in Los Angeles who couldn’t afford a box of crayons. Riley knew she had to change that.
She started raising funds with bake sales and letter-writing campaigns. She enlisted more than 50 people to her cause, too. So far, she’s brought in over $55,000 in funds and distributed more than 9,000 backpacks full of school supplies to elementary school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. For every $10 raised, she gets to hand out another filled backpack.
What’s next for Riley? She’s determined to get more Rainbow Packs into thousands of more hands until everyone has the tools s/he needs to learn. Riley is also studying at Sierra Canyon High School and practicing guitar when she has time. She’s incredibly grateful to the Helen Diller Family Foundation for recognizing and honoring Rainbow Pack. Riley won a Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award for her generous work.
We caught up with Riley for a few questions about how she gets inspired:
What is your favorite song?
“American Pie” by Don McLean.
Your favorite book?
My favorite series is Harry Potter and my favorite individual book is “Lord of the Flies.”
Your favorite subject in school?
English or History.
If there were an extra hour in your today, what would you do with it?
I would play guitar because it is hard for me to have time to practice during the week with school and my extracurriculars.
What was the field trip that you went on when you were 10 that sparked Rainbow Pack?
My school had spent the past few weeks collecting books to bring to a school called Haddon Avenue. We got to the school and were working with the students when one of the little girls at the table I was at said that she wanted a box of “skinny crayons” but her mom said she couldn’t afford it. This was the moment that sparked everything that has happened over the past five years with Rainbow Pack.
What were some of the reactions you got from your first Rainbow Pack distribution?
All of the kids were so excited and so grateful for everything they were receiving. You would have thought it was Christmas or something. They were so thrilled, but we were giving them basic school supplies. That really solidified how important these supplies are to the students.
What’s the most rewarding part of this work?
The most rewarding thing about Rainbow Pack is hearing stories from the parents, students, and teachers about how these supplies are changing the lives of students. We hear that the problem of kids coming to school not having done their homework due to a lack of supplies has disappeared. There was one story we heard of a grandmother who broke down in tears after she learned that all five of her grandchildren were going to get backpacks, because she could only afford to pay for supplies for the eldest student on her own. Truly, every single part of Rainbow Pack is rewarding; knowing that you are making an actual difference in other people’s lives is just the best feeling in the world.
Who’s your biggest hero and why?
My biggest hero is actually two heroes, my mom and dad. They inspire me to be the best person I can be. They support me in everything I do; nothing that I do with Rainbow Pack would be possible without their love and support. They are my heroes every single day.
What’s next for you and Rainbow Pack?
We are going to continue and try and help as many people as possible every year. We are looking into other solutions to this problem, but I am not going to stop working on fixing this issue until it is actually fixed.
Anything else you’d like to say about Rainbow Pack or your Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award?
Being apart of the Tikkun Olam awards community and family is so amazing; it is such an incredible and inspiring award to receive.
This post is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit www.dillerteenawards.org