Life lessons learned for mom and son as volunteers
SRP employee Joy Rivera volunteers and donates money to two Arizona nonprofits – Autism Speaks and Families Giving Back. In celebration of Arizona Gives Day on April 4, we chatted with Rivera about why she volunteers, and why she makes sure to take her 9-year-old son along. This is the third in a three-part series of stories about how SRP employees give back to the community. You can also read about the volunteer efforts of employees Freddie Dobbins Jr., who supports the Boys & Girls Clubs of the East Valley, and Nancy Brooks, a passionate animal welfare advocate who supports four nonprofits.
Q. How long have you been associated with Autism Speaks and what made you volunteer there?
Rivera: My son, James, was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum in 2012. He had always been quirky, but once he started going to school, it was setting him further and further apart from other children. I remember calling Autism Speaks in tears after receiving the diagnosis and they immediately provided that shoulder to cry on as well as offered tons of resources on where to go each time a new hurdle came up. The impact they had on my son and I has been enormous and now that my son is almost 10, I still donate to them through SRP’s Boosters program, and we participate in their fundraising walk each year to show support for an agency that has provided comfort when we needed it and celebrations when we hit victories!
Q. How did you learn about Families Giving Back and what drew you to volunteer there?
Rivera: I first learned about Families Giving Back about three years ago from a friend. I had been looking for opportunities to have James, who was 6 years old at the time, volunteer with me, but many places wouldn’t allow him to help because of his age. The diversity of families and volunteer options (packing weekend hunger bags for United Way, creating art pieces and helping pick up trash with Keep Phoenix Beautiful for Free Arts of Arizona, assembling craft kits for children at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, or sorting canned goods for school food pantries) provided the perfect opportunity for me to showcase to my son what types of needs exist in the community.
Q. What does volunteerism mean to you?
Rivera: Volunteering, especially as a parent, has been something I’ve placed great importance on. Although I donate to various agencies, when I see the amazing impact these agencies have on their clients and our community, I only want to do more. There is so much negativity in the news lately, I feel personally responsible to make sure my son knows that he is capable of outshining that by helping create a better sense of community through volunteerism. We all want the best for our kids and if our children are inheriting this community, it needs to be at its best!
Q. What does SRP’s strong culture of volunteerism mean to you?
Rivera: Before coming to SRP, I was well aware of its culture of volunteerism. I had worked only for nonprofits previously, but knew immediately that my values behind creating a stronger community were aligned with SRP’s. Being around people who have that same desire creates a strong sense of family and hope that reminds me that we are all in this together. When we help others in times of need, we will have someone offering aide when we need it.
Q. Can you think of an experience related to volunteerism that has left a lasting memory?
Rivera: Last year, we made decorations with some elderly people at a nursing home, which turned out to be memorable. Being on the autism spectrum, my son is very hesitant about making eye contact or touching people. But after being at the nursing home for about an hour, and engaging in a conversation about history (he’s a huge history buff) with the residents, and listening to their experiences, the social hurdles and lack of empathy he typically has were gone. The thing that really surprised me was when he was holding down the hand of a resident so he could trace her hand on the paper. I was in awe as I watched him and the resident create this special moment that proved that volunteering can make a difference in the lives you serve as well as your own!
Q. How do days like Arizona Gives Day help the local community?
Rivera: My family has participated since 2014 and each year we hear about agencies helping our local community that we never even knew existed. It’s a great opportunity for those who don’t typically donate money or have easy access to do so to donate to a cause that is important to them. When everyone is participating and posting about it on social media, the effort involved is minimal and the impact it has is enormous.