Alina Marie Rivas

Site: San Miguel Middle School – Camden, NJ

College: Lewis University

What do you do?

As a Teachers’ Assistant at San Miguel, I work with the lead teachers to help co-teach lessons, work with small groups on a lesson, work one on one with a student, and help manage classroom behavior. After school I help tutor students during homework time, and this year I will begin helping our school further develop a Graduate Support position, which will assist the 8th graders in finding a high school to attend, and provide support for the alums of San Miguel.

Why did you choose to become a Lasallian Volunteer? Have your hopes about the Program been realized?

I chose to become an LV for two reasons: to foster my love of service, and to grow professionally. While attending Lewis University I was able to participate in various outreach programs provided by Campus Ministry, and these outreach programs ignited a fire for serving inside of me. I am so thankful for the various programs that were offered to me, because they opened my eyes to different cultures, world poverty, faith, and a need to give back.

Before I joined the program I actually worked in a school for 6 months. I found out being an educator is a tough job. At San Miguel my students challenge me every day to be the best teacher I can be. They have taught me so much about teaching and life in general, and I know that they are helping me become a better teacher. I have been able to diversify my style of teaching so that I can help all my students achieve academic success. The administration and staff here at San Miguel are very supportive so if I ever have a problem or need help I feel confident in asking for it. I don’t know if I would have had this much support if I were a typical first year teacher.

Joining this program has definitely helped bring back my love for service. When I’m at our volunteer retreats I feel so special to be around a large group of young adults working to change the world. Our group is pretty amazing and I feel honored to be a member of this program.

Do you see yourself as different now from your friends from college as a result of the LV experience? How so?

There are a couple things that set me apart from my friends as a result of my LV experience. As an education major I became acquainted with many people that are alos now in the education field. I am sure they care about their students, but even if some of my classmates have students that come from as troubled an area as Camden, NJ the teachers are not likely living in the troubled area with them. I literally live next door to my school and the kids know it. Being there has helped me to develop a rapport with them that I believe few other teachers ever have with their students. This has opened the door to a deeper understanding or connection with the boys of San Miguel. Living in the same troubled city as my students has opened my eyes to the poverty of the world around us that we might be blind to in our daily lives, and it has made me more aware of my own blessings day in and day out. Additionally, moving away from the Midwest to the east coast, living with the Brothers, living in a truly urban setting, and participating in open dialog with my fellow LVs have challenged me to constantly reflect on and review my thoughts on all forms of diversity including culture, race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and more.

A much less important difference is that I have a job. In the current state of our economy many of my friends that are recent college graduates have found it exceedingly difficult to find employment that matches their qualifications and their need for a competitive salary to pay loans. I have an LV friend who likes to quip, “no one is firing volunteers,” and I find that this is totally true. The school I serve works with a pretty tight budget and being able to employ volunteers (not just LVs at my particular site) helps them to operate within the budget while giving me career building experience and allowing me to defer my federal loans.

How has your involvement with the Brothers affected you?

Living and working with the Brothers has been a blessing! I have learned so much from the Brothers that I know will stay with me forever. They have taught me the value of including faith in my daily life and giving myself time to reflect and pray about my day. I feel that my relationship with God has improved so much since I started living in community with the Brothers. I have also been able to adapt to a simple living lifestyle, which was not easy at first and I am no pro at it but I’m working on it. I have met some amazing Brothers and I have learned so much about life, faith, and the importance being an educator by just listening to their stories. I work and live with two of my Brothers and they have been very supportive and have given great advice when I am having any difficulties with school or teaching. I am so thankful for my Brothers: Patrick Cassidy, Joseph Mahon, and Joseph Juliano; they are the older brothers I never had! I look forward to another year of living in community with the Brothers.

What would you say to one of your students/mothers/clients/guests who came to you discouraged about a particularly troubling problem?

I would first ask them to explain the problem, and then remind them of how amazing they are, and try to help them to the best of my abilities (showing the student their options), and if I could not help send them to someone who could better help them.

What might you say to your Principal/Supervisor/who appeared negative about the recent behavior of the person just above who had recently confided in you?

I would explain the difficulties that the student is dealing with right now to my principal, and maybe ask my principal to talk with the student to help reevaluate the situation.

What would you say to a friend from home who questioned why you chose to live with the Brothers?

I would say living with the Brothers is a blast and I would invite that friend to come visit for a long weekend so that s/he could experience our community life. Remember just because they are Brothers does not mean that they don’t know how to have fun. My Brothers are wonderful men and great role models of what an educator should be. They are caring, passionate, supportive, funny, sarcastic, great at their jobs, giving of their time and energy, spiritual, great cooks, and are making a difference in the world one student at a time.

Why would you recommend the LV program to a college senior considering volunteering?

The LV program is amazing and I have grown so much personally, professionally, and spiritually. I am an example of why someone would/should join this program. This program provides so many opportunities for growth and overall experiences.

Why would you recommend a contribution to the LV Program from a prospective donor?

Donating to the LV program is not just an investment in the volunteers that receive and utilize the funds, but an investment in the students and clients that we are able to serve because of those funds. It is an investment in the future of our country. Who knows how many Barack Obamas, Hilary Clintons, Brad Pitts, Julia Roberts, Michael Jordans, and on and on we have in our classes, they only need to be given the opportunity to see the potential that lies within them. The LV program provides kids like those at San Miguel the support they need to realize their abilities.