On the weekend of  September 21st, 70 young women from across the country came together at the Timber Lake Camp in the Catskill Mountains not only to create a common bond but to strengthen themselves as leaders incorporating empathetic kindness into their mission. These 70 change-makers included founders of nonprofits, creators of small businesses, and the developer of a self-care app. They were all brought together by the Riley’s Way Foundation, an organization created five years ago following the tragic passing of the kindest friend one could have, Riley Hannah Sandler, with the mission of spreading kindness through meaningful connection. At a time of great divisiveness in our country, they came together to envision and plan how to carry kindness back to their schools, communities, and enterprises.  

Going into the retreat we all had high hopes but were not sure what to expect. The group held space for vulnerability, and this place of safety set the stage for the weekend, allowing us to share our thoughts, hopes, and dreams in utmost honesty. We learned about each other and learned new things about ourselves as well, and we were able to support one another. We each practiced getting out of our comfort zone by doing something that scared us, whether leading a workshop, standing up to share, or contributing to a challenging topic of conversation.

I led a workshop for 25 girls about the issue of privilege, which is a workshop I have led before. The purpose of the workshop is to open our eyes to privileges that we may or may not have and our perceptions of privilege. I am never sure how the group will react to each workshop, as it can be difficult material for people to accept. Everyone shared their perspectives and experiences openly. Girls supported each other by listening deeply and clapping for each girl who shared. Through our collective engagement, we created a thoughtful and judgment-free environment in which we could discuss these topics. 

We left the weekend with many changed perspectives. Through shared experiences, workshops, and bonfires, we created a safe space, which is the same safe space we intend to create for others out in the world. We made lasting memories and friendships. The behaviors we practiced will enable us to embody the mission of Riley’s Way, to lead and live in kindness. One girl said, “Before coming to this retreat, I didn’t know much about Riley’s Way, but now I would do absolutely anything for this foundation”. We vowed to keep the values of Riley’s Way and Riley herself in our hearts, and I truly believe that the mission of kindness is needed now in the world more than ever. It is a movement. It is powerful. And Kindness matters. Kindness belongs everywhere: in our schools, our streets, our cities, in boardrooms and offices, in factories and businesses.

It was an unforgettable weekend with unforgettable people. We all stepped out of our comfort zones, doing at least one thing that scared us, and we kept a safe space. We walked back into the world ready to pursue our own projects in a new way and to contribute to Riley’s mission in a bigger and bolder way.

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