Meet young social entrepreneur Riley Carney!

I first met Riley Car­ney on Twit­ter. As you can see in her pro­file, she’s 18, has pub­lished 3 books (so far), and found­ed a non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion for children’s lit­er­a­cy. Pret­ty amaz­ing, huh? I knew right away she was some­body I want­ed to fol­low! Loads of oth­er peo­ple do, too, so today we’re get­ting togeth­er to throw a SURPRISE Twit­ter grad­u­a­tion par­ty for her! Every­body say,

“Hap­py Grad­u­a­tion, Riley!”

Riley Carney
In just four years, Riley’s non­prof­it has raised over $100,000 and built three schools and water purifi­ca­tion sys­tems for vil­lages in Africa along with a children’s lit­er­a­cy cen­ter in a woman’s shel­ter in Col­orado. Cur­rent­ly, they are focus­ing on their Bookin’It pro­gram, which is putting books into class­rooms in low-lit­er­a­cy/un­der­fund­ed schools in the Unit­ed States. Riley donates some of the pro­ceeds from her own books to the orga­ni­za­tion, also.
A true hero, Riley has won a num­ber of  nation­al and local awards, includ­ing T.A. Bar­ron’s Young Heroes Award Dis­tin­guished Final­ist, Pru­den­tial Spir­it of Com­mu­ni­ty Nation­al Award for Col­orado, NBC Col­orado Affil­i­ate 9News Kids Who Care, and Skip­ping Stones Mul­ti­cul­tur­al Mag­a­zine Top Youth Writer Award, to name a few.
Despite being a pub­lished author, founder and CEO of Break­ing the Chain, in-demand speak­er, not to men­tion busy high-school senior, Riley was kind enough to answer some inter­view ques­tions to tell us a lit­tle more about her­self and her lit­er­a­cy orga­ni­za­tion, which fights right in with the youth empow­er­ment theme of this blog!
Lau­rie: Hi Riley! Thanks so much for play­ing along and shar­ing your wis­dom and vision with us. First, how old were you when you launched your non­prof­it? And how did you decide what prob­lem or issue to address?
Riley: When I was four­teen years old, I learned some star­tling sta­tis­tics about children’s lit­er­a­cy: over 120 mil­lion chil­dren around the world are denied access to a basic edu­ca­tion; 1.3 mil­lion chil­dren drop out of school each year in the U.S.; and 1 in every 2 chil­dren lives in pover­ty. I real­ized that there was a direct cor­re­la­tion between illit­er­a­cy and pover­ty. I want­ed to do some­thing to change those sta­tis­tics, so I decid­ed to start my own non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion, Break­ing the Chain, to break the chains of illit­er­a­cy and pover­ty through education.
Lau­rie: Who or what helped you fig­ure out how to do it?
Riley: When I first start­ed Break­ing the Chain, my ini­tial goal was to build a school in Kenya. I part­nered with an orga­ni­za­tion called Free the Chil­dren so that I could raise the mon­ey and they would build the school. They had many help­ful fundrais­ing tips that gave me ideas of how to raise mon­ey. My fam­i­ly and friends were very sup­port­ive from the very begin­ning, and I used my school as a way to raise aware­ness and funds.
Lau­rie: What was the eas­i­est aspect of launch­ing and/or main­tain­ing it?
Riley: The eas­i­est aspect was stay­ing pas­sion­ate about the cause. I deliv­er books to many class­rooms in high-need mid­dle and ele­men­tary schools and I often have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak with the stu­dents who receive the books. It is impos­si­ble to ade­quate­ly con­vey the joy and excite­ment expressed by the chil­dren when they see the books. As soon as their teacher allows them to, they run to the box­es and grab as many books as they can to take back to their desks. They smile, they laugh, they dance around. It’s bet­ter than a birth­day par­ty. Often, they’ll ask if they can take a book home to keep. Many have nev­er owned a book of their own. The need and the impact are so tan­gi­ble, and the expe­ri­ence only dri­ves me to do as much as I can to help.
Lau­rie: What was the most chal­leng­ing aspect of launch­ing and/or main­tain­ing it?
Riley: Fundrais­ing can be dif­fi­cult and frus­trat­ing, espe­cial­ly dur­ing a reces­sion. It’s dif­fi­cult to secure a con­stant source of funds and it’s often chal­leng­ing to find new ways of fundrais­ing after oth­er meth­ods fall short.
Lau­rie: What keeps you going when things get tough?
Riley: I just remind myself of the chil­dren who we are help­ing and the impact that our efforts have on their lives. There is noth­ing more valu­able that teach­ing a child how to read and the gift of edu­ca­tion is a right that should be afford­ed to every­one. The abil­i­ty to read pro­found­ly affects every minute of our lives; lit­er­a­cy is the sin­gle-most impor­tant com­po­nent of becom­ing a func­tion­ing adult. That knowl­edge pro­pels me forward.
Lau­rie: What do you feel like you, per­son­al­ly, have gained from being involved with it? What have you learned that you’ll take with you to your next phase of your life?
Riley: Cre­at­ing Break­ing the Chain, main­tain­ing our pro­grams, and inter­act­ing with the kids has been an amaz­ing and for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence. I have learned so much about myself and I have been awed by the incred­i­ble opti­mism and enthu­si­asm of chil­dren in even the most dif­fi­cult of sit­u­a­tions. I am so grate­ful that I have had this expe­ri­ence and had the hon­or of meet­ing so many fan­tas­tic kids.
Lau­rie: What would you say to oth­er teens con­sid­er­ing launch­ing their own non­prof­it? What do you wish some­one had said to you when you were just start­ing out?
Riley: You’re nev­er too young to make a dif­fer­ence. When I first start­ed my non­prof­it, I was ter­ri­fied that I would fail, that I would embar­rass myself in front of my peers, but I real­ized that the only way I could make a dif­fer­ence in my own life or in some­one else’s life is if I faced that fear of failure.
Lau­rie: Thank you, Riley! I think your answers remind us all, youth and adults alike, to face that fear of fail­ure and make a dif­fer­ence in what­ev­er areas we feel pas­sion­ate about. I know we’ll be hear­ing much more from you in the years to come, and I’m so look­ing for­ward to it. Con­grat­u­la­tions on your grad­u­a­tion, Riley, and best wish­es for a stel­lar future!

If you’d like to sup­port Break­ing the Chain (a 501(c)(3) orga­ni­za­tion), you can sends funds via Pay­Pal to,
or mail dona­tions to:

Break­ing the Chain
P.O. Box 100644
Den­ver, CO  80250–0644

I did!

3 thoughts on “Meet young social entrepreneur Riley Carney!”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.