Sept. 18, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Throughout her life, former University of Notre Dame women’s basketball star Ruth Riley (’01) has made it her mission to help those less fortunate, both in the United States and around the world.
Junior Chamber International (JCI) honored Riley today for her extraordinary work serving underprivileged communities through empowerment and advocacy by selecting the former Fighting Irish All-America center as a 2014 JCI Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (JCI TOYP) recipient in the category of humanitarian and/or voluntary leadership.
The first American to receive the global award since 2008, Riley and her fellow JCI TOYP award recipients will be honored Nov. 28 at the JCI Awards Ceremony, to be held as part of the 69th JCI World Congress in Leipzig, Germany.
“I am incredibly grateful to JCI for selecting me to receive this award,” Riley said. “It is such an amazing organization that has been effectively mobilizing people to take action to create a sustainable impact in their local communities and around the world. While I am extremely honored to be receiving this award, I do so with a keen understanding that I am receiving it on behalf of all the people who have supported me along my life’s journey, as well as on behalf of all the men and women who share in my passion to live life with a focus of service and love.”
Each year, JCI honors 10 outstanding young people under age 40. These individuals exemplify the spirit of the JCI mission and provide extraordinary service to their communities. Whether through service, innovation, determination or revolutionary thinking, these young active citizens create positive impacts on a local and global level.
In accepting this year’s honor, Riley joins a prestigious group of past JCI TOYP recipients, including actor/martial artist Jackie Chan (1988) and renowned motivational speaker Tony Robbins (1997).
JCI is a worldwide, membership-based nonprofit organization of young active citizens, ages 18 to 40, who are dedicated to creating positive change in their communities. Through projects in more than 5,000 communities across more than 100 countries, members seek targeted solutions to local problems, creating a sustainable global impact.
Riley currently serves as an ambassador for both the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) through the NBA/WNBA Cares programs. In that role, Riley travels around the world, celebrating and showcasing basketball as a positive outlet across communities. On the local level, she also works with the communities she has lived in during her basketball career, serving in hospitals and schools to create positive impact.
In 2006, Riley joined the United Nations Foundation’s “Nothing But Nets” campaign to fight malaria. Riley uses first-hand experience gained from observation trips across Africa to create awareness about the deadly disease, advocate for government support including funding for such low-cost items as bed nets, and inspire other athletes to join the cause.
Riley also supports the “No Kid Hungry” campaign developed by Share Our Strengths, a nonprofit organization committed to ending childhood hunger in America.
In addition, Riley is active with TRIAD (Training to Reduce the Incidence of AIDS-Related Death) Trust, an organization working to reduce the AIDS epidemic among children and young adults in Africa. Riley supports the organization’s sports division, building positive relationships in African communities deeply affected by AIDS.
Recently, Riley co-founded a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Inspire Transformation. This group supports local leaders who establish community-based initiatives using sports, music, counseling or other activities to create positive change. Riley works directly with these local communities, sharing resources, knowledge and the training needed to sustain the initiatives. Their two flagship Inspire Transformation programs in South Africa include a women’s crisis center helping women and children who are victims of gender-based violence, and a sports club bringing organized sports into communities to inspire and unite youth in a positive way.
Riley, who is pursuing her Master of Business Administration degree from Notre Dame’s top-ranked Mendoza College of Business, retired from the WNBA in June following a stellar 13-year career that included two league titles. She also was a 2004 U.S. Olympic gold medalist and served as first vice president of the WNBA Players Association from 2005-14.
Prior to entering the professional ranks, Riley was one of the most decorated student-athletes in Notre Dame athletics history, leading the Fighting Irish to the 2001 NCAA championship while being chosen as that season’s consensus national player of the year and Academic All-America Team Member of the Year. A native of Macy, Ind., she graduated from Notre Dame in 2001 with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology.
“It has been my life’s passion to use my area of influence to make a positive impact in the world around me,” Riley said. “My `world’ started on a farm right outside of Macy, Indiana. From there, it expanded to Notre Dame, a place where I first learned what service looked like and how I could use my area of influence at local schools and hospitals. From Notre Dame, my `world’ was expanded to a national level, as I participated in various hunger awareness campaigns as a spokesperson for No Kid Hungry, as well as other WNBA/NBA initiatives.
“What I never could have predicted growing up, was that one day my world would expand globally,” she added. “I have spent a significant amount of time since 2006 traveling to nine different countries throughout Africa as a spokesperson with the UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign, on behalf of the NBA/WNBA and the (U.S.) State Department’s Sports Envoys, as well as with my own nonprofit (organization) that uses sport to teach leadership and promote social change in South Africa.”
For more information on the Notre Dame women’s basketball program, sign up to follow the Fighting Irish women’s basketball Twitter pages (@NDsidMasters or @ndwbb), like the program on Facebook (facebook.com/ndwbb) or register for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the “Fan Center” pulldown menu on the front page at UND.com.
— Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director