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Riyah Patel Honored as Trailblazer by New Hampshire Women’s Foundation

   New American Scholars


Riyah Patel speaks at the New Hampshire Women's Foundation GALA while being honored with the trailblazer award.

New American Scholars founder and President Riyah Patel was presented as one of three trailblazing women at an event also honoring U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen. The award ceremony was part of the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation 5th annual GALA.

Each year the foundation honors women from the Granite State who are passionate about equality and providing opportunities to women and girls. Riyah was recognized for her work founding New American Scholars where she helps provide refugee students in New Hampshire with resources to successfully transition into new communities through academic assistance, social support, and peer-mentorship.

“It’s been an honor to help others fight for education, because it’s something I’ve had to do my whole life. It’s led me to live by the motto, ‘Don’t wait for permission,’” Riyah said to the audience of more than 300 people for the May 14 event at Wentworth by the Sea Country Club in Rye, New Hampshire.

Riyah Patel with Portsmouth City Mayor Joanna Kelley. Plaques presented by NH Women’s Foundation Trustee Tara Chynoweth.

In attendance were New Hampshire state senators along with community and business leaders. In addition to Senator Shaheen, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan was also at the GALA.

GALA Co-Chair and New Hampshire Women’s Foundation Board Member Tara Chynoweth introduced Riyah during the event and presented her with the trailblazer award. In receiving the honor, Riyah joins a group of esteemed New Hampshire women that include civil rights icons, community leaders and elected officials.

“Riyah boldly intends to work closely with state policymakers to craft legislation geared to increase educational pathways for refugee students, including expanding in-state tuition and financial aid,” Chynoweth said. “She [Riyah] believes that working together with educators, lawmakers, and community leaders will create a new generation of diverse leadership in the Granite State.”

Watch Riyah Patel's trailblazer award speech

Creating community for refugee students in New Hampshire

New Hampshire is home to more than 7,500 refugees. Many refugee students face uncertainty as they adapt to their new home and new peer groups, adopting another language, and entering a foreign education system.

While delivering her speech, Riyah told the audience that she had drawn inspiration from her mom’s experience as an immigrant, and hearing stories about the difficulties of attaining academic success growing up in a family that didn’t speak English and wasn’t familiar with the education system.

“For today’s refugees, it’s even harder. They’ve experienced war, displacement, trauma and might not even know where they’re being sent until they arrive — so they don’t have time to learn the language and culture,” Riyah said. “And then compounding that, the American education system can be really complicated.”

Riyah founded New American Scholars in 2020 while attending Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. She had witnessed the challenges COVID-19 created for education, particularly the refugee community. In less than one year, the nonprofit’s free-of-charge tutoring services have expanded to Concord, Manchester, Nashua and the Seacoast.

Riyah Patel honored as a Trailblazer by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (right) and U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (left) at the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation GALA.

“It started in Concord Public Library, Monday through Friday, every week last summer. By the end of the summer, I was working with multiple groups of students from fifth through 11th grade,” Riyah said. “I created pre-tests and worksheets, offered personalized instruction in math, history, science, and writing. Just like me, these kids had a huge hunger for learning.”

Being honored as a trailblazer adds to a string of recognition Riyah and New American Scholars has received recently. The nonprofit has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, and in stories in the New Hampshire Bulletin, The Concord Library Foundation, and the Hippo.

Joining Riyah on stage during the 2022 ceremony was Portsmouth Assistant Mayor Joanna “Jo” Kelley and businesswoman J. Bonnie Newman. Senator Shaheen, who is also the former governor of New Hampshire, was honored with the AmplifiHER award.

Riyah closed her speech with a call to action for everyone in the attendance at the GALA.

“These refugee students inspire me, and I hope they inspire you. Moreover, I hope you’ll use that inspiration to take action on something that matters to you in your community. Don’t let people tell you you can’t make a difference,” she said. “Every person here has the power to change the world, and that begins in your homes, and in your communities. So do it. Don’t wait for permission.