Riley Banks-Snyder has touched more lives in 21 years than most do in a lifetime. She owns a nonprofit organization, Generation Next, that has supplied thousands of backpacks and hygiene kits to students in Kenya. She also founded a Kenyan primary school; runs a thrift store in Branson, Missouri; won the 2015 Visionary Award from the Student & Youth Travel Association; and wrote a published book, Riley Unlikely, about starting her own nonprofit.
It all began at age 13, when Banks-Snyder saw her aunt and uncle serving with Doctors Without Borders in Kenya. She and her father fundraised to serve alongside them, and spent a week at Mosop Orphanage, where they taught English to elementary students. Her vision for East African students has only soared from there.
Associate Editor Cortney Erndt and Banks-Snyder discussed Generation Next and its plans to continue supporting Kenyan education.
Q. How did you become interested in serving Kenyan students?
A. When I first visited Kenya, I was baffled at the lack of learning equipment. Every student at a table shared one stubby pencil. School in Kenya is not free, so even if a family is lucky enough to scrape up the money to send their child to school, many don’t have enough left for the supplies needed to be successful.
So, Generation Next started after my first trip, founded on the idea of collecting school supplies. However, it grew far more than I ever dreamed it would. Pamoja school now provides free education to 103 students!
Q. What is your vision for students in developing countries?
A. I really have a vision of hope. I feel that with programs and strategies like we are doing, we can help this generation of kids have a leg up. The process keeps growing exponentially with each new generation becoming more independent and more stable than the last; that is where the name Generation Next came from.
We are already working to expand Pamoja school so we may have the capacity to allow more students to come, and we are continuing to hand out our hygiene and school kits. In the near future, I plan on living in Kenya with my husband.
We own a 5,000-square-foot community center with a small apartment upstairs, where we plan to live. The community center has 6 acres to farm for feeding programs, as well as sewing programs for single women.
Q. How can educators inspire students to participate in philanthropy?
A. Teachers have so many resources at their disposal to help students figure out ways to get involved. Educators should get excited with them and let them know they are rooting for them.
I was the quiet, shy girl no one expected anything from. The unknown is scary, but having someone walk alongside you during the process helps ease the anxiety of trying something new.
Be willing and able to step out of your comfort zone; it is a good place to be every now and again — you learn a lot about yourself, as well as the rest of the world.
For more information, call 417-365-0084 or visit generationnextcares.org.