My goal is to create meaningful connections between the Phoenix refugee community and our volunteers through music programs and activities

Photo of Riley Novak
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Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

November 15, 2002

Help us stay in touch!

480-865-4757 6339 E Exeter Blvd Arizona: Phoenix (85251)

Website or social media url(s) (optional):


Date You Started Your Project Started

Around May 20, 2019

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

From 1939 to 2018, on average, 55% of Americans have been opposed to letting refugees seek asylum in the United States. This percentage is a fraction of the greater issue at hand, which is the growing divide between the refugee communities and US citizens. In my state, Arizona, this disconnect was made clear through the targeted murders in 2001 and 2013 of refugees and general absence of empathy towards those who were forced to flee their homes.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

My program, HeartBeats’ goal is to create meaningful connections between the Phoenix refugee community and volunteers through music programs and activities. These shared musical experiences will build bridges of understanding and expand the cultural/arts education for all. I plan to accomplish this in three ways: outreach through local organizations, music starter kits for refugee families or schools with a high refugee population, and a benefit concert of which the proceeds will go to local refugee organizations. For example, as part of our outreach, members of HeartBeats will bring instruments and engage refugee children in songs and activities when visiting families along with The Welcome to America Project (WTAP), a Phoenix refugee organization. The WTAP holds “Welcome Waves” in which they bring donated clothes to these apartments and allow refugees to "shop" for the items they need. While the parents are shopping, HeartBeats members will invite children to play with the instruments and share the songs from their countries as well as learn American children’s songs, promoting cultural understanding. This is just one example of how HeartBeats will close the cultural divide.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

I was inspired to found HeartBEATS while volunteering with children at a local refugee event in April of 2019. There were a variety of different activities for the kids to do, from crafts to soccer, but when someone turned on music from a small CD player just see if anyone would like to dance or sing, immediately, groups of kids, both refugees and volunteers, gathered around the music, laughing, dancing, and having fun together. Watching this unfold, I realized that I was seeing a reflection of what I already know to be true in my arts classes at school; that music has the power to bring people together, create long lasting connections, and that it does not take a common language, religion, or nationality to enjoy the happiness and sense of togetherness that music brings.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

This is my elevator pitch for HeartBeats, a music based program which brings together the Phoenix refugee families and local teens and adults to help build community and exchange culture through the arts!

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

For those looking to get involved with HeartBeats, the most likely first step they would take is to visit our website, heartbeats.wix.com. By clicking on "Get Involved," they can determine in what way they would like to help, whether that is through donating time, resources, or even ideas. For example, if a charity group wants to , they could contact me directly about holding a fundraiser for funds for the toy musical instruments in the starter kits. If a teen who was interested in our outreach wanted to come along on the Welcome Waves, they would drive to the given location (which will be sent out in an email) and teach the refugee children how to shake the rhythm of "Twinkle Twinkle" or "Hot Cross Buns."

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Unlike any other organization in Phoenix, HeartBeats employs the use of the performing arts to connect refugees and the volunteers through a variety of mediums. The power of music frequently goes unseen despite the fact that it is a proven method of improving one's mood and bond with those around them. Furthermore, the flexibility of our program ensures that people of all ages will be able to engage with our program in the way that best suits them. Most importantly, HeartBeats is being launched at a time in which empathy and kindness seem to be in short supply.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

I will know that HeartBeats is making a difference in two ways: the amount of families we are able to reach through the music kits and the interactions we have with the refugees. I believe that if we can provide school districts or local organizations with music kits, we will know that we have at least sparked the idea of music in the kids' minds even if we were not able to talk to them directly. In terms of outreach at the Welcome Waves, I believe that if our volunteers and the refugee children are both sharing music, enjoying themselves, and engaging positively, I will know that my project has made a difference. Even if it just means one volunteer leaves humming the first line of a Iranian folk song and knowing that they have a new friend, I consider that having made an impact.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Within the next year, I plan to host a benefit concert in the late spring or early fall of which the proceeds will go to refugee organizations that help welcome and support refugees. Organizations such as The Welcome to America Project or PCs for Refugees. I would also like to bring HeartBeats Outreach into places such as Valencia Newcomer School, an elementary school specifically for refugees, and organize a trip for students from my arts high school to visit Valencia and create shared musical experiences and discussions. I think that this would be an incredible opportunity for both groups of students because it would educate everyone about music from around the world and the significance it has for them.

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • No, I do not identify with an underrepresented community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or T-Mobile, who was it?

Josh Kaplan, who helped out at the TMobile Changemakers Lab last year, suggested that I apply.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Salomée Levy

This is really cool! I run a project that highlights immigrant youth voices on a writing blog. We should definitely collaborate sometimes!

Photo of Riley Novak

Hi Salomèe! Thank you so much! Your blog looks incredible, and I appreciate all the work you are doing. I would love to collaborate, and I wish you the best of luck with your program!

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