Read how Idaho teen Rylee founded her own high school service club that serves the underserved in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Rylee Thomson of Twin Falls received the 2021 Idaho Conference on Alcohol and Drug Dependency (ICADD) Outstanding Youth Award, which recognizes the important contributions that Idaho’s youth make in their communities both individually and collectively.
When Rylee found out there wasn’t room for her to serve on her school’s student council, she began eyeing other clubs to join. She was surprised to find that most required applications and recommendations from teachers, a process she felt could be an obstacle for some students.
Rylee promptly set out to create a new service club that would be open to everyone who wanted to join. She called the club the Forget Me Nots and decided it would focus on serving the underserved in her hometown of Twin Falls. The name is a nod to students who felt left out of the other, bigger school clubs as well as people in the community who are often overlooked.
“I was talking to people in the community and found out that there are a lot of organizations in Twin Falls, but the same handful seem to get all of the donations and recognition,” she said. “We want to recognize and help people who weren’t being seen by other organizations.”
Rylee guides the Forget Me Nots’ efforts by researching and identifying needs in the community, and the group performs one large service project each quarter. Their first project was making and delivering 200 candy bags to assisted living homes last Halloween. The group had heard the seniors were feeling lonely and isolated due to COVID-19 restrictions, and they wanted to spread some Halloween spirit. They’ve also made blankets for a local animal rescue and held a book drive to donate books to local schools, Grab and Go libraries, and the county jail.
“My mom had held classes for kids in the jail, and she noticed that the few books they had were trashed and ripped up—so they hadn’t been reading,” Rylee said. “The inmates are an unrepresented population. People have negative feelings about them, but a lot of times they just need to re-evaluate their lives, and we wanted to help them get through it.”
Rylee’s first Forget Me Nots meeting was, as she says, “brutal.” Only three students showed up, including Rylee and her best friend. She worked with friends and the school to spread the word and opened up membership to all area high schools. Membership has grown, with about 20 students participating in the last activity.
Through her service, Rylee has met a lot of people in the community and opened up other opportunities for herself, like being elected as her school’s service coordinator. Her big heart has created opportunities for others, too.
“Sometimes I would give rides to students who didn’t join other clubs because their parents were working and they didn’t want to ask for help to get there or the funds they needed,” Rylee explains. “It was really inspiring to meet them and help them participate, and they saw me as a person they were able to talk and relate to.”
In addition to heading the Forget Me Nots, Rylee is a member of the debate team and Business Professionals of America, and plays club and school softball. She also volunteers to create monthly educational displays about substance misuse and mental health at the Twin Falls County Treatment and Recovery Clinic (TARC).
“I help educate people about themes related to recovery,” Rylee says, adding that she’s created displays on topics such as PTSD and bipolar disorder. She spends about five hours each month developing the display and handouts. She’s passionate about awareness and education in order to help teens and other TARC clients on their recovery journeys.“
I was intrigued by how addiction affects families—but I really wanted to learn how to prevent it because the studies show that it can tear families apart and ruin peoples’ lives,” she explains. “In middle school, you don’t really know what drugs can do to you and you can’t make good decisions without first having the knowledge.”
In May, Rylee was awarded the 2021 ICADD Outstanding Youth Award for her substance misuse prevention efforts and volunteerism. Her TARC manager Jaci nominated her, and the Idaho Office of Drug Policy presented her with the award during the recent ICADD 2021 Conference.
Rylee had never heard of the award, and she definitely didn’t know her manager had nominated her. When she found out, she was ecstatic.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh – I won this! I actually did something in my community that was beneficial and recognizable.’ It’s amazing!”
An upcoming senior, Rylee will be handing over the reins of the Forget Me Nots after she graduates. Her experience has opened her eyes to future career possibilities, including practicing family law or serving her community in a myriad of ways.
It’s also given her important perspective that she shares with other teens: “If you’re passionate about something but you’re scared, just do it anyway. Because once you realize it’s not so scary, you get more out of it than you’re scared of.”