Williamstown student receives Jefferson Award for service

Rileigh Leighton recognized for creating nonprofit organization Rileigh's Rainbows to give back

Rileigh Leighton is pictured with Williamstown Middle School paraprofessional Jenn Longo after receiving the New Jersey State Govenors’ Jefferson Award. (Special to The Sun)

Williamstown’s Rileigh Leighton founded Rileigh’s Rainbows in 2014 to help a few classmates by providing them with basic school supplies like pencils, folders, notebooks and binders. Five years later and official nonprofit status in hand, the organization is knocking on the door of its 700th student helped.

From the website, rileighsrainbows14.com, Rileigh’s Rainbows is dedicated to improving the lives of students by providing access to free school supplies to begin their school year properly. Equipping students with the necessary school supplies will allow them to enhance their educational journey and to become more successful in the classroom.

Because of her work in the community, Leighton was awarded the Jefferson Award – the nation’s oldest and most prestigious recognition program for volunteer and public service. It’s also the official recognition program of the U.S. Senate. Leighton was nominated by Jenn Longo, a paraprofessional at Williamstown Middle School and advocate for Rileigh’s Rainbows.

“I’m very grateful and appreciative of Jenn Longo. She’s very supportive and she’s always taking care of me,” Leighton described. “She’s basically my adopted aunt. She helps with fundraisers.”

This award is just the latest in a long list of recognition Leighton has received since the nonprofit’s inception five years ago. She’s also won the Prudential Spirit of Community Award – Middle Level Youth Volunteer, President’s Volunteer Service Award, state Board of Education Honoree for Service to School and Community, state Department of Education Recognition Program Award, Volunteer Center of South Jersey Presidential Volunteer Service Award – Points of Light Award and State of New Jersey – The General State and General Assembly Joint Legislative Resolution Recognition.

Leighton feels adding awards to her work legitimizes her goal to spread her work with the community.

“With all the awards I’m super grateful because it brings more awareness to Rileigh’s Rainbows. More people are inclined to help an organization that’s official,” she said. “I’m grateful for all of them.”

Leighton’s goal for the 2019-2020 school year is to provide more than 200 students with school supplies. If she eclipses that goal, she will have helped more than 700 students since 2014. Rileigh’s Rainbows hasn’t had to apply for a grant to fund its work, according to Leighton. She said all of the work is done through private donations and fundraising efforts.

“I want to help as many students as I can to have a successful school year,” she said. “Having school supplies will help students start on the right note and succeed in the classroom.”

While it can be easy to get caught up in running a nonprofit organization, Leighton still finds time to play volleyball and golf for the high school. She also takes part in the varsity club at Williamstown High School. When she has the time, she can be seen volunteering with the Williamstown Challenger League.

At the end of the day, though, helping others is her passion. She says it’s something she learned from her family, specifically her grandmother.

“We think it’s important to remember one small act of kindness can impact a person’s life for the better,” Leighton said. “Hopefully someone reading this would be more inclined to help others.”

For more information about Rileigh’s Rainbows, visit its Facebook page, “Rileigh’s Rainbows.”