What started as a 9-year-old’s dream to create a homeless shelter in her backyard has now become a successful nonprofit helping children in need.
Rileigh Leighton, a junior at Williamstown High School, has been donating school supplies to Williamstown students for seven years. Now, at 16 years old, she has bought supplies for more than 800 children through her nonprofit Rileigh’s Rainbows.
“When she was younger, she would drive us nuts with the homeless shelter,” said Rileigh’s mom, Jennifer Turbett Leighton. “She had plans drawn up … We told her to hold onto that dream, but try to think smaller.”
Jennifer found out about Leighton’s new idea after discovering a letter she had written to her principal at Oak Knoll Elementary asking to buy school supplies for students.
“We thought it was going to be a one time thing,” Jennifer said. “But she enjoyed it so much … [Leighton] asked ‘Could we do something more for next year?’”
In the beginning, she would buy school supplies for three to four children at Oak Knoll Elementary School with her own money.
Leighton began to hold fundraisers to purchase supplies and reach more students in the Williamstown area. Her first fundraiser was a Paint and Sip in 2016 during which attendees donated baskets to sell in a silent auction. This helped her raise more than $6,000 to buy school supplies. Since then, she’s held a variety of fundraisers including an ice cream social and a beef and beer with a Chinese auction.
Due to COVID-19, Leighton’s fundraising events were put on hold this year, but she still received private donations to purchase supplies for the coming school year.
“Each year we want to increase our numbers,” Leighton said. “We want to expand on the number of kids we are able to help. Next year, we want to get over 250 kids which would bring our total to over 1,000, which would be wonderful.”
Leighton’s love for volunteering was inherited through her grandmother, Patze. Leighton described many instances where she showed kindness and compassion to the less fortunate, such as those in need in Philadelphia.
“My grandmother and I would go see plays in Philly,” Leighton said. “She would always go to the Philadelphia Pretzel Factory and buy a bunch of pretzels and hand them out. There was one man who hung out by the theatre, and she would talk to him all the time and buy his cat food. She was always very kind to everyone.”
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed, and she has been recognized with a handful of awards including Kohl’s Care Scholarship, President’s Volunteer Service Award and Points of Light Award.
“The awards are all really important,” Leighton said. “One that sticks out experience-wise was the Prudential Spirit of Community Award. It was one of the best experiences.”
Anyone who wishes to donate or volunteer can reach Leighton through her Facebook page Rileigh’s Rainbow.