Our Story

The inspiration for HeartBEATS came in early 2019. Riley Novak had been welcoming refugees for several years with the WTAP on Welcome Deliveries and had often encountered a language barrier that made it challenging to connect with refugee families. She started brainstorming ways that she could connect with the families without speaking. One idea that she kept coming back to was music. Since her first choir rehearsal at age 5, she had seen the way music connected people of all ages, backgrounds, and personalities.

Music and singing had helped her connect with new people in classes, at summer camp, and after school programs. She recalled happily dancing with kids she'd never met before at outdoor concerts in the park when she was little. How could she employ the power of music with her new refugee neighbors as well? What if music could help volunteers make connections with children and families during these Welcome Deliveries? In what other ways could music be used to foster cross-cultural connections among communities? These questions helped lay the foundation for what has now become HeartBEATS. Riley hoped that the joy, healing, and connections that shared music provides could help make a difference to the newly arriving refugee families and open the minds and hearts of their Phoenix neighbors.

Riley Novak,
Founder/Executive Director

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Riley Novak, founder of HeartBEATS, playing

ukulele with a new friend at one of our outreach events.

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Her love of music started at an early age!

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GCP program spring break trip to US/Mexico border

to learn more about immigration policy and issues.

Riley Novak has been involved in the arts since she was very young, and has always had a love for music. She attended a performing arts school for eight years where she studied piano, French horn, and choir. She is passionate about advocating for arts education for all students because she has seen how beneficial music and the arts have been in her own life. 

Riley currently attends Washington University in St. Louis as a sophomore where she is double majoring in Global Studies and Spanish. She loves playing French horn for the WashU pep band and wind ensemble. In her freshman year, she was part of the Global Citizenship Program (GCP), where she participated in specialized classes, workshops, and events to continue to expand her knowledge of the immigrant and refugee journey. In spring 2022, she spent a week at the US-Mexico border with BorderLinks, learning about the history, politics, and legality of immigration policy in the United States. Riley is actively involved with the refugee community in St. Louis at IISTL as a tutor and a mentor. She also volunteers with Beat Therapy, a music-based community service organization at WashU that connects people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities in creative and healing ways through music. She is currently in the planning stages of expanding HeartBEATS with a second chapter in the St. Louis area.