Sometimes when you follow your passions, you end up with a career spanning decades before you even realize it. When your passion revolves around helping the street homeless population of New York City, your effect can reach countless individuals in that same time span. For Juan Rivera, Program Director of the BronxWorks Homeless Outreach Team, street homeless outreach was like a calling to him, something he felt he was uniquely positioned to do, and to do well.
Juan was born and raised in the Bronx. He attended Ithaca College originally to pursue a degree in communications with dreams of working in sports TV or radio. He would later transfer to Fordham University to complete his undergraduate studies and worked at Simon & Schuster for one year after graduating. Juan said that he would have something of an epiphany, that the experience at Fordham University around service would remain with him, and that his communication, interpersonal, and bi-lingual speaking skills were strengths for him to pursue social service work. He left Simon & Schuster to take on social services jobs with a variety of organizations, including the NYC Parks Department where he first developed an interest in working with the homeless.
“You see a lot of folks who are homeless in parks. That’s when it became interesting to me,” Juan says. “I was thinking, what’s going on with these guys? Who’s helping them?”
Juan got his first job as an Outreach Worker in May 2000, working in Manhattan. His very first encounter outreaching to a homeless individual was at Madison Square Park. He still remembers the encounter like it was yesterday. Juan recounts it as being pleasant, an older gentleman who shared his story, which Juan says he is thankful for. He says that in that moment it felt like the right thing for him to be doing, that it was what he was meant to do. After working with a few other organizations, Juan joined BronxWorks in October 2007. He spent two years as an Outreach Worker before moving on to case management. In 2009, Juan applied to Hunter College and graduated in 2012 as a Social Worker. In 2014, Juan became the Program Director of the Homeless Outreach Team.
I still get that same feeling when I talk to folks or when I have a real connection with someone.
Because of the passion of BronxWorks staff like Juan and his team, street homeless rates in the Bronx have declined over the past 10 years. The work that HOT does 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every single day of the year, has helped bring countless individuals off the street, into shelter, and eventually into permanent housing. It connects the most vulnerable individuals to much-needed services and has become one of the pillars of what BronxWorks provides for Bronx communities.
Outside of his work, Juan has become very much a family man. He and his wife are raising two children and enjoy road trips, exploring places with deep and abundant history, meeting people, and sharing experiences as a family. He’s a Yankees fan and a Giants fan, but mostly watches cartoons on the television these days.