Riley’s Way Foundation Names Dr. Christine O’Connell As First Executive Director
NEW YORK (September 26, 2019) – Riley’s Way Foundation has named its first Executive Director, Dr. Christine O’Connell, who will lead the next stage of growth for the organization. Riley’s Way is a non-profit organization in New York City building kind leaders for a better tomorrow. Riley’s Way works with educators and youth to encourage empathy and kindness in teens, and provide them with the infrastructure and support to become change-makers and create lasting connections in their communities.
“I am humbled and amazed that we are at a point in our existence where we were able to recruit such a world class leader to lead Riley’s Way. In addition to her fitting background, Christine is brilliant, kind and empathetic,” said Ian Sandler, Co-Founder or Riley’s Way and Chair of the Board.
“The vision of building a youth-led movement to advance kindness and empathy in this world is something in which I believe, and have dedicated the last ten years of my life to advancing those ideals in science and medicine,” said Dr. O’Connell.
Dr. O’Connell is an organizer, a scientist, an educator, a strategist. She comes to Riley’s Way with a distinguished career in communication, empowering voices, and building empathetic leaders. Dr. O’Connell is a sought-after public speaker and curriculum designer, and has led workshops and headlined at conferences and institutions around the world. She has spoken at dozens of institutions including NASA, Caltech, Broad Institute, Google, Yale University, Stanford, National Academy of Sciences, and Okinawa Institute of Technology.
She was the founding Associate Director at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University where she helped create and build the Center and its empathy-based communication curriculum to international acclaim. She led the growth of many of the Alda Center’s flagship programs, and under her direction the Alda Center’s workshop program trained over ten-thousand scientists worldwide to be more effective communicators.
“I love seeing how an idea can take shape and grow into a movement,” O’Connell said. “I saw this happen with the Alda Center ten years ago, and am overjoyed to now be part this journey for Riley’s Way. Who better to lead a movement centered on kindness and empathy than our youth? They have the passion and ideas to make it happen. I am thrilled to be able to support their journey to become kinder, more empathetic leaders to build a better world.”
With the talented team at Riley’s Way, Dr. O’Connell will shepherd the organization into its next stage of growth and strategically build its three flagship programs for the national stage: 1) Riley’s Way Councils, which partners high-school students from public and private schools to explore issues in their communities and implement projects that embody Riley’s Way core values of kindness, empathy, connection-making and leadership; 2) The Call for Kindness, a national contest which awards funding to teen-led projects working to better their communities; and 3) The Youth Leadership Retreat, an annual event which brings together young women who are kind leaders and change-makers from around the country.
“I am thrilled to have Christine join us at such an important time for Riley’s Way,” said John Horner, Riley’s Way Board member and Managing Director at JP Morgan Chase. “As we expand our reach both nationally, with The Call for Kindness and our first Youth Leadership Retreat, and locally with new Riley’s Way Councils, Christine will enable us to continue to pursue our goal of empowering the next generation of kind leaders to build a better world. Given the backdrop both globally and in the US, this is needed now more than ever. We couldn’t have dreamed of finding a better leader for the next leg of our journey.”
“All of us at Student Leadership Network are so thrilled to welcome Christine O’Connell to the helm of Riley’s Way Foundation,” said Laura Rebell Gross, Riley’s Way Board member and Managing Director, Student Leadership Network, which is a partner organization for Riley’s Way Councils. “Not only does Christine embody the values of kindness, empathy and community, upon which Riley’s Way is built, but she has the intelligence, experience and drive to take our work to the next level, impacting students across the country with the unique programs that have been so meticulously developed by the fabulous team at Riley’s Way. Under Christine’s leadership, we are going to see incredible growth and exciting innovation. We found the right leader and we’re ready to expand and deepen our impact!”
“Christine has a rare ability to connect immediately,” said Paul Burke, Riley’s Way Board member and Head of School, Nightingale-Bamford School, a long-time partner to Riley’s Way. “To connect to an idea, to another person and to a cause that is as big and as important as inspiring kindness. Beyond that she knows how to convert a notion into an operation and an operation into a movement. Without question, our sights have been lifted and our hopes made that much grander thanks to her arrival at Riley’s Way.”
About Riley’s Way Foundation
Riley’s Way Foundation is a nonprofit organization that empowers young leaders to use kindness and empathy to create meaningful connections and drive positive change.
By equipping teens, students, and young adults with life tools, Riley’s Way is developing a network of leaders who view kindness and empathy as a necessity and a strength. Through that strength these leaders create connections, communicate ideas, and make a difference in their communities. Three flagship programs implement the mission on a local and national level: Riley’s Way Councils, The Call for Kindness, and annual Youth Leadership Retreat.
Riley’s Way Councils pair high-school girls from public and private schools to explore issues in their communities and create projects that embody Riley’s Way core values of kindness, empathy, connection-making and leadership. Council members are mentored and develop important leadership skills along the way. Topics have included women impacted by incarceration, immigration reform and providing support to teens in immigrant detention centers.
The Call for Kindness is a national contest funding teen-led projects that inspire kindness and make a positive impact. This year’s winners include: a political discussion group in Washington State, “Purple America,” to connect teens from “Red” and “Blue” states; a free app centered on self-empowerment for women in Florida called Womaze; and on the ground initiatives to provide meals and clothes to homeless LGBTQ+ youth in Texas, build shared vegetable gardens in low-income communities in in Missouri, create youth empowerment workshops and STEM after-school programs in New York, and throw birthday parties for those affected by poverty, addiction, or abuse in Illinois.
The Youth Leadership Retreat brought together nearly 100 inspirational young women and their mentors this past weekend (Sept. 20-22) from around the country who are kind leaders and change agents in their communities. The weekend included leadership skill building sessions, teen-led workshops, mentorship opportunities, and developing a network of like-minded peers. #rileyswayretreat
Riley’s Way Foundation was established by Mackenzie & Ian Sandler in 2014 in memory of their daughter Riley Hannah Sandler. They honor Riley’s spirit and love of life by helping young leaders create connections in their communities, building a better world.