Margaret Rivera: Helping Latino youths to aspire
When she was 17, Margaret Rivera volunteered to help a homebound child who was paralyzed from the neck down. Rivera massaged her hands, her feet, told her about school and read to her. More than five decades later, Rivera is still volunteering.
“It’s in my DNA,” says the Wilmington resident. “When growing up, I saw the challenges people have and I thought about how I can turn it around to help them solve it.”
Rivera, who retired last year from AstraZeneca as manager of Affirmative Action and EEO Compliance, received the 2013 Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award for Education, the 2010 AstraZeneca Jefferson Award for Public Services and the 2007 Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award for social/justice/advocacy.
The native of New Jersey is a founding member of ASPIRA of Delaware, a non-profit organization that helps Latino students move beyond a high school education to college. She also helped start Las Americas ASPIRA Academy Charter School, the first dual language school in Delaware. The K-8 school in Newark opened in 2011 with more than 300 students. (In Spanish, aspira means to aspire.) The national organization originated in New York in 1961.
Without ASPIRA, many students would not know what educational and financial options are available to them, Rivera says. She joined ASPIRA in 2003 when the Delaware organization was known as Friends of ASPIRA. Many Latino youths in the state were not pursuing college at all at that time, she says.
Due in part to ASPIRA, the dropout rate of Latino students is declining. According to the Delaware Department of Education, it went from 3.2 percent in the 2014-2015 school year to 2.2 percent in 2015-2016.
“I would not be where I am if it were not for Margaret Rivera,” says Maria Velasquez. Before meeting Rivera, the 27-year-old, who now lives in Philadelphia, never imagined attending an Ivy League university. Today she is a first-year MBA student at the University of Pennsylvania. “Margie encouraged me to apply,” she says.
To maximize its efforts, ASPIRA’s collaborators include community volunteers and institutions such as the Latin American Community Center, Girls Inc., Del Tech Community College and United Way.
Rivera remains on the ASPIRA board and volunteers as chair of the Development and Communications Committee. And she is still an advisor to students in the Saturday Academy program.