Outstanding Volunteer - Rut Rivera
One word perfectly summarizes Rut’s passion and work in the community - “la familia.” It is the
central force in her Hispanic heritage and the focus of all her efforts to serve others. Rut was born in Merida, Venezuela, and was raised in Punto Fijo, five minutes from the beach and one of the largest oil refineries in the country. Her father was also born in Venezuela, and her mother moved there at a young age from Colombia. Her parents were missionaries and moved to the U.S. in 2000, when her father secured a mission in a small town in South Carolina. Rut remembers that she and her sister were called upon frequently to interpret for congregants in many situations: at the DMV, at school, and at the hospital. Initially, she herself struggled with the English, and remembers the worry and stress when she could not comprehend the words of a doctor, teacher, or official. Through this, she explains, “I developed a love and passion for helping others.”
She arrived in Greenville in 2004, to attended North Greenville University for Psychology, and began working as an interpreter at GHS language services. She combined this with coordinating after school programs at the Greenville YWCA. It was here that she met Adela Mendoza who also had an office at the Y. They had many conversations, and when Adela began to organize the Hispanic Alliance, Rut attended some of the first meetings. She had to cut back when her job as an interpreter became full-time, requiring long hours and focus. Eventually, she joined PASOS, an organization through GHS dedicated to connecting Hispanic families with health information, education, and resources.
In 2015, she found she was able to invest time as a volunteer, and returned to Hispanic Alliance as a Health Team member representing PASOS. She has been with the team ever since, using her substantial knowledge of the community to ensure that our health programs provide relevant services and information. Rut is now the Manager of the PASOS Greenville office, and was elected the Vice Chair of the Health Team in 2018. Her current professional focus for her families is Diabetes education and the importance of, and access to, primary care. She is driven by the potential to create significant impact for each family she serves, just by providing a trusting relationship and simple information.
“Our community is yearning for knowledge and education about resources to have health and long lives,” she insists. Her most important priority is advocating for adequate healthcare for families. Rut says that she has found it necessary to confront the thinking and behaviors of some doctors because of how they were taught to treat people from other countries and colors. PASOS is also responsible for a lot of cultural education for medical staff. Understanding the fear that immigrants experience when accessing health care is of paramount importance. To her this is, “Putting everything aside and looking at the person as a human being.” Rut believes that her work at PASOS creates trusting relationships with the community. As she puts it, “We’ve been in the same shoes as the families we serve.”
Though it provides valuable insight for her work, Rut’s Hispanic Heritage and life experiences give her an “outsider’s” perspective on being in the US. Though she insists that her struggles are minimal compared to many of the people she serves, she has lived through the language barrier that affected her life every day. She reflects that, “My Hispanic Heritage is a daily reminder of what being a first-generation immigrant means.”
Her most meaningful service experience at Hispanic Alliance is fresh in her mind. Just over a week ago, the Health Team executed it’s 6th Annual Health Fair, providing multiple health services, screenings, and a wealth of information for the Spanish-speaking community. Rut spoke with an enthusiastic participant, a man who kept asking, “How does this happen? Who are you guys? Why do you do this? This is amazing I can’t believe this is here in Greenville!” She was deeply touched by his enthusiasm and connected himself and his family to PASOS and to a primary care physician. With this experience she could confirm that her efforts at Hispanic Alliance were well worth it - “What we do made a difference in a family’s life.”
Again, when Rut considers the meaning and impact of her heritage, it all centers around her family. Even though she has been in the United States for 18 years and considers herself bicultural, it affects her every day. Her husband is Dominican, and her parents are living with them, so there are at least 3 cultures in the same house, along with her young son and new baby girl. Her favorite traditions center around Christmas and New Year’s. “New Year’s Eve we go crazy! In our house, fifteen minutes before midnight, everyone holds hands in a circle and each shares what they are most grateful for in the passing year, and what they want to achieve in the year to come. For the last five minutes we pray together as the new year starts.”
In her opinion, a strong family life is the greatest cultural asset that the Hispanic community adds to the broader culture. “Our general community is so individualized,” she insists, with family separating into units, sometimes far away from each other. “The strongest things that our culture brings to American culture is family unity. If someone goes to the hospital to receive difficult news, there will be five or six family members there to support them. The family is always together through good and bad times.”
We are so grateful to have Rut as part of our community and our Hispanic Alliance family. She has contributed warmth and passion to our work, and will continue to place all our Hispanic families on an upward trajectory of wellness and empowerment.