Interim Regional Manager, Families First; Holyoke City Councilor: Age 37
Holyoke City Councilor 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 tells his backstory.
At age 19, Rivera was incarcerated for five years for drug-related charges. Upon his release, he gravitated to positive places in the community that he’d known since childhood. To get back on his feet, he sought out 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 as interim regional manager. There, he 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 have friends who 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.’”