Every Tuesday, we highlight entrepreneurs and leaders that are not only making a name for their selves, but are also showing generosity in unique ways. The individuals we choose are ones that have inspired us to continue doing what we love and are shining examples of what Take Heart Apparel Co. stands for as an organization. These individuals have shown the ability to be enterprising and generous and are not only changing the lives of those around them, but even of those all across the world. They are community leaders and world changers.
This week, we are excited to feature the very inspirational Riley Banks. Riley is the founder and director of the organization Generation Next as well as its subsidiary business, Riley’s Treasures, a new thrift store located in Branson, Missouri. When we first heard about Riley, we were beyond amazed with everything she has been able to accomplish at such a young age. Only seventeen years old, Riley has made a profound impact in the lives of many around the world. It’s not hard to see why we were so excited when we first heard Riley’s story and we are so honored to share this interview with you!
What are Generation Next and Riley’s Treasures?
Generation Next is our non-profit, while Riley’s Treasures, which opened this December, helps raise money for that. Riley’s Treasures is a thrift store that mainly raises money for the orphanage that we’re opening this summer. With Generation Next, we hand out school supplies and hygiene kits, host a medical clinic, and just opened a school with 50 kids.
How did Riley’s Treasures come to be?
We had been thinking about a thrift store because had been getting a lot of donations that we really could not take to Africa. We didn’t know how we were going to get it over there. So we kept think, “it would be really neat if we could start a thrift store or figure out a way to get a thrift store.” We were contacted by the Boys & Girls Club and they said, “We’re done. We heard about your organization and think that your guys would be a great fit to keep continuing the store going.” That it would be beneficial. That’s kind of how it started. We thought about it for a while, but we never really had any connections and then one day we did and we had the thrift store within a month.
How long has Generation Next been in existence?
This is our 5th year. We started the nonprofit when I was 14. We built the school under Generation Next, through speaking at different church and doing her own fundraising…and then Riley’s Treasures came into play. It was right after my parents sold their business. We had a business for 16 years and they sold it. Now they work at Riley’s Treasures.
Where did the name come from?
The concept behind Generation Next is that if we help one generation, then that generation can grow up and be successful and help the next generation below them.
You mentioned that Generation Next has a school in Kenya with fifty children. How does enrollment at this school work?
When we first started with Generation Next, we learned that in Kenya and other countries, the kids have to pay to go to school, which I wasn’t used to. If you go to a private school in the United States, it’s pretty expensive, but there it’s only about $20 a month most times. I said, “O, that’s pretty do-able!” It wasn’t as do-able as we thought, especially when you think about sponsoring a child all throughout their education. But the school has been neat to sponsor so many kids and take it step-by-step. At the school, the students range from five to eight years old and most had never been able to have access to education before. The location of the school is pretty isolated, so basically the whole town’s kids go to school here, aside from the kids who are in secondary school, so we’re pretty much able to allow all the younger kids to go to school.
What first inspired you to be involved in missions and the things you’re doing?
A lot of people ask me if I thought about missions before Generation Next. I really never did. It wasn’t something that had really entered my mind. It started when my aunt and my uncle, who is a doctor, were serving in Tenwek, Kenya for 6 months. I thought it would be neat to visit them and I was pretty surprised when my parents said I could go, so myy dad and I went to Kenya for two weeks. I was prepared to serve, but it was still far from what I expected. I worked in the neonatal unit and I passed out my very first time I went in there. All of the babies were in tubs withouts diapers on and so it was my job to go in there and clean them up and feed them. It was so hot and it smelled horrible and I didn’t even make it through feeding time. I had to put my baby back and I walked outside and passed out. Later, we went to Bosa orphanage for a week and there wasn’t any running water and I shared a bed with three other girls so I didn’t shower for a week and we all had to sleep together so it was smelly. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Sometimes we would come home and see who could kill the most flies the fastest, it was wild. My job while we were there for the week was to try and help to teach the kids some English. In one situation, the teacher wrote the word “ball” on a board and I went around to help the kids spell the word “ball.” As we started, I noticed that there was only one pencil for the large group of kids. It took us over thirty minutes just to have all the kids spell “ball.” I thought to myself, “They’re not going to be able to learn English at this rate.” I had brought toys and things, but I realized I should have brought pencils and different things that these kids needed in order to learn. They loved the toys, but I really wished I had brought those things as well.
You are 17 years old, still in high school, and are the executive director of Generation Next. How do you balance that?
It’s difficult. I’m not at school a lot. I miss two, sometimes three, days of school per week. My school and teachers are very understanding, though. They know what I’m doing and why I’m not there so they are helpful in giving me my work ahead of time and things like that. It’s not easy, though. I go to school and then I go to the shop and help out most days and I spent much of my weekend working on things as well. I don’t normally go to a lot of sporting events, even though I love football games and things like that. I went a lot to those things when I was a Freshman and a Sophomore, but I more recently realized what was more important to me and I should have been spending my time a little more wisely. My parents also work so hard for Generation Next and Riley’s Treasure and I have great friends that help out and support at Riley’s treasures when the can. It’s not easy, but I take it one day at a time and do what I can.
How has the involvement of your family played a factor within the organization?
My my mom is the biggest organizer. She organizes everything. She does the money. My dad does our website, write all of little handouts. And then there’s my brothers. I have a freshman and an 8th grader. They normally just volunteer at the store, so they just help out every day after school and on Saturdays. Those are the roles everyone plays within the family. Sometimes my brothers get sick of it, but they’re still great about it. My brother Jacob is going to go to Kenya for the first time this year. I’m really happy about it.
You are also in the process of starting Gail’s House, an orphanage in Kenya. Tell us more about that.
It has over three acres of its own farming land and it really stands out in the area that it is located. It holds sixty kids and it was started by sisters Jenn & Janette Hofmann of Nomad Charities. Gail was their grandmother who, when she passed away, left them money to start this house. It took a really long time to build, though. Because it took so much longer than expected, they realized that they no longer had the time to do what they had intended with the building. They knew that we had been in the area for the past few years and it was something that I wanted to keep doing so they kind of handed it off to me, which was awesome because it is so cool. It’s even got an apartment building on the top with two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a little kitchen. We won’t have sixty kids to start off with, though. That would be just crazy. We’re planning on fifteen kids ages five and younger, that way we can find sponsors so they can go to school.
Could you name a defining moment for Generation Next? A moment that made you think, “Wow. This is something I want to keep doing.” or “this is the real deal.”
Yeah. I do have one. As soon as you said it I knew. It’s hard for me to talk about. I found out last year that I can’t have kids, so I was obviously struggling with God like, “I don’t understand. Why me?” I could be a great mom or at least I thought. “I promise I will try my hardest” I was praying to Him saying, “I know I could!” It was hard for me to go to school and see girls get pregnant and I’m like (long pause)…I still struggle with it obviously. A couple months later Jenn Hofmann had contacted us about Gail’s House and starting an orphanage and I was like, “Yeah! Let’s do it! Totally!” I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work. My family knew it was going to be a lot of hard work. Hearing about this a couple months after my pretty big news I thought, “This is pretty neat, that when I was 13 years old, God knew this was going to be the plan.” That He was going to send me there (Kenya) and have me fall in love with so many people, then give me some pretty big news that I didn’t want to hear and I would argue with Him about. Then a couple months later, give me a place where I knew I would be safe and where I knew that I would be working to glorify him. He also put me in a place that I was going to have more kids then I was ever going to be able to have myself and I was going to get to love them and take care of them. I think that was my big moment that I knew that this is what I was supposed to do and what God had called me to do. And I’m so excited about it because I absolutely love it. That was my big defining moment with Generation Next.
What’s next? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now or where would you like to be?
I would like to be in Kenya. I know I need to go to school, so I’m going to College of The Ozarks. I plan on majoring in elementary education and then going to Kenya. I’ve thought about taking different business classes. I’ve thought about a lot of different things that would be beneficial for Generation Next. I would like to be in Kenya for as long as possible.
What is an organization or person that has really inspired you?
My encouragement is Katie Davis. She wrote “Kisses from Katie.” I started reading her blog before my first trip to Kenya and I’ve continued to read it ever since. I really look up to the way she was able to make such strong decision. She was confident in what she was doing and she made some really tough decisions. I struggle with making decisions a lot of times and I really look up to her and the way she does things.
What advice would you give to someone with the desire to start a nonprofit or very active in helping a cause?
My advice would be even though it looks pretty hard and it is pretty hard, don’t give up because it’s only going to get better. Believe in the Lord. You need to have full faith in what He’s planned for you. If you know without a shadow of a doubt that this is what He’s called you to, then you need to go at it full force. Make sure your main goal in what you’re doing is to serve Him.
How can those reading this interview help Generation Next and the things you’re doing?
There are plenty of ways. You can come on a trip with us, we love having new people. At Riley’s Treasures, you can volunteer or donate clothes that you don’t wear anymore. We love donations! Another way is that you can collect school supplies and things like that. We also do school drives at the end of the year where we put boxes at the end of the halls and students can put their unused school supplies in them. That usually will provide enough supplies for the year at the school in Kenya. There are always ways that people can help so people can contact us if they are interested in getting involved in any way.