Keeping His Legacy Alive: SMPD widow honors late husband with nonprofit

The organization hosted its fourth annual fundraiser gala at Topgolf in El Segundo with all proceeds advancing the mission of The Riley Youth Foundation and supporting the next generation of strong leaders.

Sometimes good things come out of bad circumstances. This was the case for Maya Riley when she started The Riley Youth Foundation and The Riley Youth Club. In 2019, Riley became a young grieving widow. Being in such unfamiliar territory, she felt lost, afraid and alone. But then one day she flipped through a parenting magazine and a lightbulb went on.

From this humble beginning, she created a nonprofit foundation and business based on keeping her husband’s memory alive. Today, the organization has grown to around 500 members.

Rashad A. Riley was a beloved Santa Monica police officer. Before that, he was a United States Air Force veteran with a job that took him all over the world. He was adventurous and loved all sports, including soccer, football, golf and baseball. He enjoyed coaching his sons' sports teams and had a special place in his heart for all kids. He was also a devoted husband and father to their two boys and young daughter when he passed.

“Rashad was a strong leader,” Riley said. "He volunteered his time to the Santa Monica Police Explorers and was a member of the department’s Homeless Liaison Program, which helped those experiencing homeless. He was a beacon of light. How could something so amazing be gone?”

Due to unforeseen events, Rashad passed away in April 2019. One day, not too long afterward, Riley was on her way home from dropping off her kids at daycare. She was crying on the ride home and stopped in her driveway. Struck by grief, she felt lost and didn’t know what to do with her kids for the summer. Flipping through a parenting magazine, she saw summer camps, classes and foundations. Struck by an amazing idea of how to keep her husband’s legacy alive, she took action.

“He can’t be gone for nothing,” Riley said. “He was inspirational, positive, a great family man, and loved kids. This couldn’t end here.”

Immediately, she picked up the phone and called her family. She also contacted her friends from the Santa Monica and Los Angeles police departments. They agreed it was a great idea and wanted to help. Her idea was to incorporate the things that Rashad loved the most—kids, sports, helping people and strong leadership—into a nonprofit foundation and successful business.

All her life, Riley worked in corporate sales events, so starting a nonprofit and business was new terrain for her. She worked hard to get the Riley Youth Foundation and Riley Youth Club up and running within five months, in time for what would have been Rashad’s birthday.

“I just kept going. I started it in 2019 on his birthday, Nov. 1,” Riley said. “It’s been super amazing.”

With her momentum continuing, she pulled her money together and invested in a 10,000-square-foot facility in Woodland Hills. The Riley Youth Club facility is a multipurpose space that offers sports classes, coding classes, birthday parties, events, and summer camps. The deal closed in April 2020, when the pandemic hit and businesses shuttered.

“I had a five-year plan and I did it all in a year,” Riley said. “It was really scary in April 2020, everything was shut down and I had a new building to maintain.”

Riley struggled to own and operate a new business during the pandemic. She worked hard to bring the kids back, which took longer than she thought. She reopened the facility in 2021. However, 2022 continued to be a tough year for the Riley Youth Club and Foundation.

“It was hard coming back, but we didn’t shut down,” Riley said. “We are still here, still pushing. I am passionate about inspiring kids.”

Riley focused on expanding the brand. When she took over the space, it was a soccer arena with about 200 members. Now, she has grown the business to include a variety of sports and other events. This increased enrollment to over 500 registered members. Additionally, the Riley Youth Club attracts members from outside Woodland Hills.

“We are growing,” Riley said. “We want to attract kids not from just Woodland Hills, but from all over, including the Westside.”

Even with amazing growth, Riley recognizes that acquiring funding continues to be an uphill battle. This is especially true for the Riley Youth Foundation, a nonprofit organization. While the Foundation and Club are separate, the entities work together to support each other. The purpose of the Foundation is to offer free classes and scholarships to kids who are unable to afford them otherwise. Reaching out to schools and youth groups, the Foundation and Riley’s goal is to open up the facility so that all kids can take part.

“We offer programs for free at the Club and scholarships from the Foundation, so everyone can play in a top-notch center,” Riley said. “Our place is special, it is more personable and we have a positive impact on kids.”

With around 80% of the funding from the Club going to the Foundation, money is tight. Operating as a nonprofit, grants are difficult to secure, so Riley needs to look for other sources, which is why fundraisers are so vital to the Foundation.

"The Foundation's biggest fundraiser of the year happens the first weekend in November, to commemorate Rashad’s birthday,” Riley said. “This year's gala was on Nov. 5 at Top Golf in El Segundo.”

The event sold out with over 200 people in attendance. The gala attracted celebrities like sportscaster and former NFL player Marcellus Wiley. Wiley volunteers as a coach at the Club and teaches flag football to kids. Other celebrities joining the fundraiser included former professional boxer Zab Judah, news anchor Christine Devine, and Olympic track star twins Lisa and Miki Barber.

“Our fourth annual charity fundraiser went off without a hitch,” Riley said. “Our goal this year was to enjoy the night, mingle, golf and raise money. Our Board of Directors as well as our Youth Club staff had an opportunity to meet and hang out with some of our top sponsors. We shared our past, current and future financial status with our supporters and raised over $40,000 with this year's efforts. We didn’t quite hit our goal, but understand it is a challenge for all individuals and businesses at this time as we all come back from the effects of Covid.”

The Foundation also hosts other community events to help those in need. Recent upcoming events include the Turkey Drive and Toy Drive. The Turkey Drive encourages donations of canned goods, dry food and turkeys to help women and children living in shelters. For the Toy Drive, they set up tables to collect new unwrapped toys for the holidays. Children living in the shelter come and can pick a toy, or the toys get dropped off at the shelter.

Both the Club and the Foundation are amazing examples of how Rashad’s legacy continues to live on and touch the lives of future generations. Riley’s inspirational idea shows how strong leadership and resilience can lead to a positive outcome.

The Riley Youth Club

therileyyouthclub.com

The Riley Youth Foundation

therileyyouthfoundation.org