Hi everyone! My name is Riley Link and I’m the president of Youth Empowerment Club at Rutgers University. I’m a senior undergraduate student majoring in Public Health with minors in Spanish and Economics.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I’m currently training for a bike ride from New Brunswick, New Jersey to Portland, Oregon! I will be biking for 2 months this upcoming summer to see the country and raise money to fight hunger and poverty.
How did you first get involved with YES?
I began volunteering with the CAST program at the beginning of my freshman year. Each week I looked forward to tutoring the middle-school student I was paired with and watching her make progress. That year I started working with the Director of YES, Barry Smith, and some other YES volunteers to help launch a new after-school program called A2E at Roosevelt Elementary School. Since my sophomore year I have been helping lead A2E, recruiting Rutgers volunteers, and growing Youth Empowerment Club on campus. Over time, I have also been able to volunteer at X-Cite Nite and work with YES on other events.
Why have you continued to volunteer and lead YES Club?
Volunteering with YES has genuinely been the most impactful experience of my life. Working with students as they learn, build self-confidence, and just laugh with one another is incredibly rewarding. YES is a place that fully believes in and supports each student despite the challenges that may fill their lives. The students have also taught me so much about my own values and helped me grow my own strengths. In addition to the students’ progress from YES programs, each year hundreds of volunteers like myself learn from the YES community.
Can you tell us more about the YES Club?
Youth Empowerment Club (YEC) strives to expand opportunity for young people in the Rutgers- New Brunswick community by building connections and advancing education. We believe that the city and university communities can learn from one and support one another. In order to do this, YEC members volunteer weekly after-school at the YES program, A2E, providing tutoring, literacy intervention, and social and creative enrichment activities for nearly 50 elementary school students. YEC has over 200 Rutgers student members each year and hosts meetings to plan A2E activities and support YES every Wednesday evening.
What is your most memorable moment?
When I first started volunteering the student I worked with wouldn’t look me in the eye, especially during math homework. I told her about a math test I kept failing when I was younger because I was embarrassed to ask for help. We started spending a few minutes talking about our lives before jumping into homework and I saw her confidence grow. Soon she was determined, asking for more and more problems for practice. I learned that getting to know students as people helped me become a more effective volunteer and mentor.
How have your experiences with YES impacted your life?
YES has taught me the power of people coming together to work for a better future, especially through education. Not only have I learned a ton about program management, I have become more empathetic, proactive, and driven. Working with YES has and will shape my decisions as I study public health and policies which affect communities like ours in the future.