Israel Rivera – 40 Under Forty Class of 2023
In the spring, our Regional Manager – Western MA, Israel Rivera, was named one of the outstanding young professionals in 40 under Forty of 2023 by BusinessWest.
Israel Rivera’s pursuit of a master’s degree in public administration from Westfield State University might not sound out of the ordinary until he shares the rest of his story.
At age 21, Rivera was sentenced to serve a five-year minimum mandatory bid with the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (MADOC) for drug-related charges. Upon his release, his first initial impulse to re-enter society was to reach out to networks that he knew to be positive places in the community that he’d known since childhood. To get back on his feet, he sought out organizations like the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club and the Holyoke Housing Authority.
“I went back to my old roots with the intent on giving back to my community,” he explained.
After earning an associate degree from Holyoke Community College and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UMass Amherst, Rivera held positions in community engagement and workforce development, before Families First recruited him originally as an area program manager. There, in a short time, he has risen the ranks to Regional Manager and now oversees two programs that build stronger families by encouraging parents to connect and network with each other.
“As parents grow their network, they gain confidence,” he said. “If one person is having a problem, another parent will share what has worked for them with a similar problem. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Rivera is proud to be part of this effort to build stronger families in Western Mass. “As a father of three, these programs strengthen my knowledge as a parent and a community organizer.”
In 2021, Rivera was elected to Holyoke’s City Council and now chairs its public safety committee. “When I took office, I did not think the other councilors would appreciate my background,” he said. “But many have been supportive and want to hear my perspective.”
He hopes his life example will start to change societal attitudes about people who made mistakes in their youth but have matured into adults who are positive citizens. “If we allow formerly incarcerated people to be in society, we have to gradually allow them to fully take part in society.”
For example, after a person is incarcerated, they often face legal discrimination when trying to improve their lives, he noted. “I know ex-felons that are now in a place where they would like to apply for a liquor license to open a restaurant or apply for a lottery license to open a bodega, but they can’t because of their past.”
Rivera said he shares his own experience to educate and inspire others about what’s possible. “When I was incarcerated, I dreamed about where I am today. So when someone asks how I’m doing, I say, ‘I’m living the dream.’”
We are so proud of Izzy for this accomplishment and for being a strong community leader in Holyoke.