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How a super scary diagnosis taught one girl to be brave for life


Sometimes, life can put us in an incredibly difficult situation, but we have the chance to see—or create—the good in the bad. Riley Callen, a 15-year-old from Pawlet, Vermont, is living proof of that.

When Riley was eight years old, a benign (non-cancerous) tumor was discovered on her brainstem. After two surgeries, it was successfully removed, but three years later, another one developed. While recovering in the hospital from a successful removal operation, Riley had a realization. “I wanted to do something about it—to help people in a situation like myself,” she explains. From this, Be Brave for Life, which Riley explains is “an organization that raises awareness and funds for benign tumor research,” was created.

Since Vermont has tons of wonderful hiking trails, Riley and her mom came up with the idea of a fundraising hike-a-thon. In 2015, the first Be Brave For Life hike-a-thon and basket raffle was held. In 2016, the hike-a-thon was expanded to include a scavenger hunt and silent auction. The two hike-a-thons togetherbrought in over $250,000 (!!). The Be Brave For Life organization also recognizes people who show bravery in their everyday life. Though the organization’s website, individuals can nominate “real life heroes” who have the chance to win $1,000 grants for a charity of their choosing.

Riley has been personally recognized for her amazing work; she was selected as one of the Top Ten Youth Volunteers of 2017 through the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a program that recognizes kids and teens for their outstanding community service work. She has also grown and learned along the way. Riley says, “I learned that teamwork, dedication, and communication are the most important things when you have big goals to achieve. By commitment and listening to each other, you can get anything done.”

Riley also believes that you may have more bravery within you than you realize: “Going through some hard times, I realized that people are a lot braver than you think. Being ‘brave for life’ to me means finding the good in the bad.” 

The accomplishments that Riley has achieved through Be Brave For Life are exceptional, but she doesn’t consider her work done. “My hope for Be Brave For Life is that we take it as far as we can, whether that means all over Vermont or all over the east coast. My ambitious goal is that we find a cure for brain tumors and spread bravery,” she says.

If you want to help Riley and Be Brave For Life, you can visit their website to donate, sign up for the hike-a-thon or nominate someone you know that is Brave For Life. And if you have been thinking about giving back or even starting your own community service project, Riley says, “Don’t hold back!” You have all the bravery you need within you.

If you are a devoted volunteer, consider applying for the 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards! Click here for more information. Applications open mid-August, and the deadline to apply is November 7th, 2017.

by Marie Hansen | 8/20/2017