Riley Brown is only 19-years old. She is studying political science at the University of Texas, with plans to continue into law school. At just 19, she’s accomplished more than most people twice her age.
During her senior year of high school, Riley went on a mission trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and found a passion for inner-city ministry. With an idea in hand for an organization that builds community in inner-city neighborhoods, she and a few others began working under the umbrella of Mission: Possible! Austin, an Austin nonprofit focused on inner-city ministry. As their work grew and expanded, it soon became clear that they couldn’t be under the umbrella of another organization for much longer.
“Starting a nonprofit seemed like a big dream for later, but I quickly realized that the time was now. We gathered a team, incorporated, and got 501(c)3 approved,” said Riley.
And Mount Nebo was born. “Mount Nebo exists to bring Gospel-centered community development and mentorship to under-resourced communities. Our vision is to see those we serve equipped in relational community development and lifestyle management. We accomplish our vision through mentorship, programming, and discipleship.”
When Mount Nebo launched in March 2016, they offered weekly programming, had seven volunteers and 15 kids in only one community.
“I was thrilled – those numbers felt like the biggest gift in the world. Now I look back and giggle at how excited I was. We now have 100 active volunteers, about 120 kids on our roster, two communities, and are in the process right now of planting a third community! We provide weekly programming in each community, consisting of outdoor activities, a meal, lesson, activity, and dance party.”
And there’s no sign of slowing down any time soon. By March of 2017, Mount Nebo plans to have 120-140 volunteers, three communities, and close to 200 participants.
“Our future plans include having paid staff, which will allow us to be more sustainable and grow to a fourth community. We are considering adding international programs into our organization. A vision trip to Columbia is planned for May 2017 where we’ll train churches and nonprofits with our model. If that’s successful, we’ll begin regularly taking teams abroad. And finally, we’d love to expand our classes and programming to include guitar, singing, swimming, drawing, more adult programming, financial literacy classes, nutrition classes and maybe an after-school program. We’d also like to offer mental health services and provide resources to support families through hard times.”
Throughout this journey of starting a nonprofit organization, Riley has learned much about herself, as well.
“I’ve learned I am far from understanding the issues that our participants face. I have no idea what it feels like to not know if I’ll eat. Or what it’s like for my race to decide things in my life. I don’t know what it’s like to not be told I can dream big and accomplish those dreams. I went into this ministry thinking I was enlightened, that I didn’t even see race and my immersion in the community meant that I got it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My belief that color doesn’t matter is my own white privilege. I’m still working on my tendency to swoop in and save the day, rather than giving people the dignity of doing it themselves.”
Luckily, Riley has always had a major support system and considers her mom, Joelle, her biggest inspiration.
“This process would not have been possible without the support of my Mom. She cares deeply, loves fully and unconditionally, and fights for what’s right with every fiber of her being. She has been one of my biggest advocates and background supporters. She recruits, fundraises, and as soon as I tell her a need we have, she’s on it. She’s dedicated and never fails to remind me how proud she is of the work I’m doing. It is my hope that I follow in her footsteps of fighting for what I believe in, not giving up just because it gets hard, and making sure my voice is heard when I care deeply about the cause.”
Like any nonprofit, Mount Nebo depends on donations and volunteers. If you’d like to help, you can donate through the website at www.MountNeboAustin.com or give monthly by emailing email@example.com. People interested in getting more involved can email firstname.lastname@example.org. A specific opportunity for those in the Austin area is to provide meals for the kids on a weekly basis.
From a dream to a fully-operational nonprofit changing lives all over Austin, Riley gives this advice to others unsure about following their dreams: “We can all make excuses for why we can’t change the world – we’re busy, there are people relying on us, maybe further in the future, etc. But the time is now. We will always have excuses and reasons not to, but at the end of the day, we all admire the people that risk it all to do what they believe in.”