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Yamaris Rivera - Holyoke Community Advocate
Yamaris Rivera, who works as a family engagement coordinator at the H.B. Lawrence School in Holyoke, has been involved with Way Finders Community Building & Engagement through the Chestnut Community Alliance since 2016. Through this connection, she has gotten to know the community and its needs more closely, both of which have greatly benefited her work.
It was back in 2016 while attending community meetings at the Holyoke Public Library that Yamaris realized the information being shared was extremely important to the families she works with. Her suggestion—that the meetings be held at Lawrence School, so families could be a part of the process—led to the creation of an ongoing collaboration between Way Finders staff and families in the area.
In 2017, Yamaris decided to participate in the Resident Leadership Program, a series of local workshops organized by Way Finders to train area residents to become leaders. Two years later, she was part of a group of residents who traveled to the Community Leadership Institute in Chicago for a training with community leaders from all over the United States.
Once back in Holyoke, Yamaris and the other participants of the training got to work on their next effort: planning a community project. Their project aimed to help residents identify and develop the skills necessary to facilitate effective community meetings and conversations.
“It was this opportunity that most helped me to understand and expand my knowledge as a leader,” says Yamaris, a resident of Holyoke since 1993. “Being part of the Community Leadership Institute helped me to recognize and realize the skills I already possessed as a leader, and to understand that everyone can be a leader in different ways.”
At an awards ceremony held at the end of the Chicago training, Yamaris, a woman of great faith, identified with a Puerto Rican man who received recognition for his role in a project implemented in his country. “Through the project, he, a homeless person who lived under a bridge for years, was given the opportunity to rehabilitate his life, to overcome an addiction problem, and to achieve his goals by working with other individuals in similar circumstances. He transformed his future and his community.”
Daring to participate with Way Finders has helped Yamaris to step out of her comfort zone. Taking such steps and pushing her limits is how the magic happens, she notes. It’s how she has learned the importance of teamwork and established and strengthened relationships between residents. It’s how she’s collaborated with different community partners and learned about the resources they have available. And it’s how she’s planned and implemented workshops and activities that benefit families.
“I know that we can obtain better results when a community is united and aligned, working with the same purpose,” says Yamaris.
And for those Latinos who may fear that they cannot get involved or make a difference in their neighborhood because they are not fluent in English? Yamaris emphasizes that during community meetings and workshops, there is always a group of people available to support them and explain things in Spanish.
The greatest inspiration for Yamaris? “Seeing the families of Lawrence School students getting involved, whether in parent meetings or community projects. Even more so, seeing them become leaders and the voices of the community in these settings. That’s what keeps me motivated.”