Hometown Hero: Riley Banks, a Teen with a Mission

BRANSON, Mo. -- Our Hometown Heroes segment features people in our community who overcome odds, face challenges and give back to others.

This week we're featuring a teenager from Branson who made a trip to Kenya, and knew she wanted to help improve the lives of strangers who became dear friends.

They are a world away, but a group of African children have touched the heart of a 16-year-old girl from Branson.

"They help me probably more than I help them," says Riley Banks.

Banks made her first trip to Kenya with family when she was only 13 years old. She knew she had to go back.

"We got home and I was like, I just want to spend the rest of my life there," says Banks. "I want to help people and I just fell in love with them instantly."

Riley spent time at an orphanage and what she saw sent her on a mission.

"The kids would have to share pencils," Banks says. "So there was a stub of a pencil and one would do their worksheet and then they'd all switch to the next pencil."

The trip inspired her to begin a non-profit organization called generation next, to raise money to supply children with basic needs.

"I thought it was important to give them a chance," Banks says. "So we started to give them school supplies... that's what our goal was to give them all school supplies."

Riley has made two more trips back to Kenya.

She has handed out hundreds of backpacks, full of school supplies for the high school students there.

She also made sure the young ladies had personal hygiene products.

"After we get to hand them out, we get to talk to all the girls ,which is so much fun because they are my age," Banks says. "And so it's fun to get to learn from people from another country and to get to learn about their culture and we all like to do the same things."

Riley no doubt, is a special young lady with a heart of gold. A smile that can light a room. She's bonded with them, brought smiles to their face, nurtured them, and has been a true friend.

"Definitely proud of her and also very inspired," says Lucas Banks, Riley's dad. "To see someone that young have that empathy... I'm still working on that at my age."

Riley and Generation Next, have even helped build this school. She found her calling, her passion, her life's mission.

"I've done a lot and it's been hard but this [is] definitely rewarding and I know that what I'm doing now is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life," Riley Banks says. "I have no doubt about it. And it thrills me to know I've already figured it out and I love doing it.

Riley raises money for Generation Next by selling tee shirts and necklaces made by Kenyan women, but mostly from donations.

Click here to learn more about Generation Next

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