Rashad Riley died in April while swimming in Hawai'i. (City of Santa Monica)

His peers in the Santa Monica Police Department described Rashad Riley as an officer who was fun, caring and helped hundreds of community members with something as simple as an infectious smile and compassionate demeanor.

To honor the life of the U.S. Air Force veteran and former Officer of the Year nominee, Rashad’s wife Maya Riley was inspired to start The Riley Youth Foundation — an organization seeking to provide youth with the tools necessary for future success.

Before he died while swimming in Hawai’i in April, Maya said she and her husband entertained the idea of starting a youth program in the area over the summer. Rashad was a very hands-on father of three whether it was with school, sports, or the trials of life, so it made sense to the couple to dedicate time helping the kids.

Rashad was also a stickler for health and fitness, according to his wife. “He could go to the gym and he’d come home and say he needs to go run a couple of miles,” which is one reason why The Riley Youth Foundation will have a particular focus on helping children be healthy and fit — both physically and financially.

Having made a career in the military and police force, Rashad was the strict parent, Maya said. “His determination for fitness and health was used to show the kids: ‘This is how you’re supposed to be. You have to take care of yourself.’”

When the fitness enthusiast wasn’t ensuring his children ate a fruit or vegetable with every meal of the day, he could likely be found sharing a story with one of his many friends or new acquaintances he’d meet on the street almost every day.

“He was that guy. You met him and you thought, ‘He’s a cool cat,’” Maya said. “He was down to earth and he took pride in being a little bit different. He was always very focused, very passionate and just different. He was the shining light of everything he touched and very hands-on.”

“I think you can tell I lost a best friend… but he was that amazing. Everything about this is because of who he was. Even the motto (for the foundation): ‘Inspiring, Motivating, Building Strong Leaders,’ makes me think of mini-Rashads,” Maya said.

“There’s times where I’m broken and unsure of what I’m trying to do, and he still fires me through,” she said, remembering when she first decided she would go through with founding the organization.

“Closer to when things were still really, really fresh. I’d drop (my daughter) off and the ride home would always be a moment of emotion,” Maya said. One day she picked up a parent magazine that mentioned summer camps, “and this is where I start talking to Rashad in my head.

“The way I look at it, he started the race and he’s passed the baton and now I have to finish the race,” Maya said. “I can’t let his efforts and everything that he did and stood and worked so hard for go away. He worked too hard and he was too great to just let it go away.”

Maya acknowledged there are a lot of other organizations in the world who aim to help children, “but there can never be too much helping the kids,” she said. “And that’s the thing, we aren’t targeting any specific group or age range. From 4-years-old to 17-years-old, anybody can use the program, because you can have every privilege in the world but lack communication skills or still be in need of some guidance or mentorship.”

To kick off the first leg of what Riley hopes will be a long run for the foundation, the Santa Monica Police Association, Team Bully Buster and Get Beyond Fit are sponsoring a Grand Opening Gala on Friday, Nov. 1 at The Terrace at L.A. Live.

The foundation’s kickoff falls on Rashad’s birthday and will include youth performers, dancers, singers and prominent community leaders. It will be hosted by comedienne Crystal Powell and attendees should expect to learn about the foundation’s goals.

The black-tie affair will also include a silent auction and raffle, as well as music by DJ Prophet and a guest appearance by professional wrestler and actress Keta Meggett.

“At the end of the day, it’s Rashad’s birthday and the day will be all about information, inspiration and celebration, because it has to start with adults,” Maya said. “Kids aren’t signing themselves up, so we’re holding this to try and get the adults fired up so we can start helping the children. Because that’s what matters and that’s why every program will be aimed at building them up and making sure they have the skills they need to grow and find success.”

More information on the event can be found at bit.ly/31LEzGM.


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