Some of the best stories that come out of BronxWorks are of our staff who have grown with our programs but have also contributed to our growth through their years of providing services in our communities. Maria Rivera, who has worked in our Services for Older Adults Department for almost as long as we have had the department, is one of these stories.
Maria was born and raised in Manhattan, her parents having immigrated to New York City from Chile. Maria credits her love of serving people from her childhood, growing up in and around restaurants. Her father was a chef, as is her brother.
That is why I am so in tuned with food. It’s one of things I like to do most, feed people breakfast and lunch.”
Maria earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Psychology from Lehman College, and her Master’s in Social Work from Hunter College. She worked for Project SOS providing case work for homebound elderly and oversaw the Older Adults Luncheon Club at a senior center on 183rd Street. When the Older Adults Luncheon Club eventually closed, BronxWorks took it over and hired Maria to help transition the program to the Morris Senior Center.
Over 22 years at BronxWorks, Maria has supported the expansion of the Senior Services Department. She became Department Director in 2008 and has seen the department grow to include four Older Adult Centers; a Senior Housing Assistance Program (SHAP); a Senior Housing Improvement Program (SHIP) two Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCS), Elder Abuse Prevention, Geriatric Mental Health services, and other supportive programs and satellite offices for seniors. This year, Maria helped BronxWorks expand the department, adding three new Senior Centers at the Carolyn McLaughlin Community Center, Soundview Senior Housing, and Twin Parks West
Older Adult Centers are so important for our communities. It gives our participants a place to go, to see their friends, and is so important for their mental health.”
Maria says that working with older adults became her calling when she saw how older adults are treated in society and how many of them live in isolation. She said the biggest challenge for her and staff throughout this pandemic is not seeing the participants day to day. To address the isolation for her participants, the department immediately conducted wellness checks with each participant every single day. They transitioned to virtual classes and activities until they were finally able to hold in-person activities on a limited basis.
Still, she says, its not like it used to be. They cannot hold parties or organize trips yet, which many of the participants are eager to resume. Despite the challenges, Maria is encouraged by the dedication that her staff has shown to providing services for older adults and is hopeful to resume all of the programming with participants in the future.
Outside of work, Maria is all about her family, and spending time FaceTiming with her grandson. She loves to dance and travel, but these days she spends most of her time making improvements to her house.