Rileigh Leighton was just 9-years-old when she says she noticed some of her classmates didn’t have appropriate school supplies. “Some kids in classes didn’t have binders, notebooks, the types of pens they needed,” says Rileigh. “I felt I wanted to help these kids because I knew I had the resources and I wanted to share what I had with them.”
Launching Rileigh’s Rainbows in 2014, the now 16-year-old Williamstown, New Jersey resident has provided free school supplies to hundreds of students across the Monroe Township school district in New Jersey. Working with local elementary and middle schools to provide children in need with tools to succeed in class, Rileigh is making a positive impact on school children in her community.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Since I was offered many opportunities when I was younger, I felt that everyone should have the same opportunities and everyone should have school supplies. Once I knew how I could help, I wanted to try to help as many people as possible.
Why did you decide to help other students in need?
It’s unfair that some kids have supplies, and some kids don’t. Keeping good supplies helps your whole school experience and affects how well you do at school. I first emailed the principal of my elementary school suggesting how I could help, and since then, we’ve provided free school supplies to over 700 students across our school district.
Describe your role with Rileigh’s Rainbows.
As founder and CEO, I gather school supplies, organize our inventory and make sure supplies are distributed to middle or elementary schools. I also handle fundraising. We fundraise and collect donations in order to purchase school supplies. We haven’t branched out to other school districts in New Jersey yet, but plan on doing that in the future. My mom really helps me a lot with Rileigh’s Rainbows, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this stuff without her.
What supplies do you distribute to students?
Binders are one of the big items. Pencils, colored pencils, pencil cases, erasers, pens, glue, gluesticks. We also collect backpacks for some kids.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
Last summer, we held an ice cream social to help benefit Rileigh’s Rainbows. An elderly woman came up to me and handed me a newspaper clipping reporting on my volunteerism, including a note on it from her congratulating me. That meant a lot to me. I didn’t know this woman and she didn’t know me, but she still took the time to recognize my service. It may sound cliche, but I don’t volunteer for the recognition. It made me feel good that someone appreciated what I was doing and they took time out of their day to make something that was special to me.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
Better than any feeling of getting a new car or a present, giving back makes you feel like such a good person and it helps so many people around you. You can effect a lot of change by giving back to your community.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
I received a bunch of cards from elementary school kids who’d benefited from our school supply donations. I couldn’t believe they sent cards thanking me.
In one word, what does volunteering mean to you?
When you’re not in school or volunteering, what do you do for fun?
I’m on our school’s varsity volleyball team. I also play golf and I like watching Netflix. I feel like that’s something every teen does (laughs).
How can readers help?
We’ve had to postpone our supplies distribution because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but our donation letters are going out soon, so we’re hoping to resume gathering supplies ahead of the fall. Please visit our Rileigh’s Rainbows Facebook page.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Rileigh Leighton? Find local volunteer opportunities.