Joel Rivera

Employment/Housing Navigator: Secure Jobs, New Opportunities Inc.


What is your greatest joy or what are you most proud of in your work?

My greatest joy managing and implementing the Secure Jobs program has got to be the outcome and end result of every client as they walk away from the program. It’s like dropping off your child at kindergarten for the first time. You’ve given them all the tools and guidance until that day when they walk away and they’re on their own. My satisfaction is derived from seeing them accomplish personal goals and employment goals they thought would never be possible when they first met me. As they walk away with career skills training and/or employment not only am I fulfilled but I sleep well at night knowing I changed an entire family’s future.

Who or what inspires you to do your work?

Secure Jobs has been a staple in my life and I’ve learned great lessons from managing this program. What has inspired me the most are the customers themselves. Someone who has hit a low in their life, isn’t defined by that low. Seeing them overcome barriers you could never imagine gives me the power to do what I do. I’ve learned that our customers are extremely resilient and with just a little assistance their outcomes are off the charts.

What is the biggest challenge in your work today?

Joel at a Secure Jobs training. Photo: Bonnie Rosenbaum

Some of the biggest challenges we face in our region, and I know many regions face the same, are transportation and childcare. We’re fortunate to be in an area that is thriving with new business development and growth. The jobs are here and in nearby towns but most customers have trouble finding transportation to get to employment. Limited bus schedules only allow for our customers to remain in certain areas or don’t allow them to get a job because it’s too far. Another huge issue is limited childcare providers in the area. We have several childcare providers in the area that are almost always at capacity or do not accept certain age groups due to demand. There have been plenty of employment opportunities and options for some of our customers and they had to pass it up due to these barriers.

What do you wish everyone knew about homelessness?

I wish that people knew that homelessness can happen to anyone. It can happen to me, you, our neighbor, or even the executive of a company. I’ve met incredible people along my journey and I’m always interested in what led them to this position. Most, if not all, are related to a minor hiccup in their life. Most Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless on average. Some of the people I’ve met had a home, car, assets but lost employment or became ill and couldn’t keep a job and everything piled up on each other until they lost it all. Our society has not been able to see this side of homelessness. They only see the visual representation of a human being sleeping under a bridge because they think they “choose to,” and that’s not what it is at all. The amount of work and effort these individuals do to try to get back on their feet is rarely noticed and applauded. I would also add that often the services available were not created to help the homeless population and accessing services is extremely difficult.

Since this interview took place, Joel has become the coordinator of Working Cities in Torrington, CT.