Ivonn Rivera, a wife, mother and community leader from San Jose, California, is the winner of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership 2023 Award from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. Catholic bishops' domestic anti-poverty program.
The award highlights the leadership of a young adult who "demonstrates leadership in fighting poverty and injustice in the United States through community-based solutions," according to the USCCB press release.
The work of Rivera — a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, who came to the United States 18 years ago to be reunited with her father — takes place in the city of Campbell, where many hard-working families have to face vandalism, gangs, drugs and violence.
Rivera helps organize monthly "Misas del Barrio," which have resonated with the community. This initiative, organized with St. Lucy Catholic Parish, brings the Eucharist to all. It also reminds the community that they have a church that cares about them, she said.
"The Masses were taken to the communities near the church and are held in the neighborhood parking lots and after that, there is a community meeting and fellowship," said Rivera, who works hand in hand with Silicon Valley Sponsoring Committee, or SVSC, which is a network of civic associations, faith-based organizations and nonprofits that receives funding from CCHD.
The Masses are accompanied by SVSC-facilitated listening sessions, where community concerns are shared.
"We listen, more than anything, to the needs of the communities," said Rivera, who is the mother of three sons and a daughter. "Many people would like their churches to have these types of Masses because sometimes people don't have (migration) documents and people are afraid to talk about their needs, their concerns."
Through her community involvement, which includes being a member of her parish's organizing team with SVSC, Rivera works intensely, inspired by her faith, for a dignified life for those who do not have the resources or access to assistance from the state or federal government.
Rivera — who has activist César Chávez as her inspiration — understands the importance of organizing around a common effort for the benefit of all. She represents the interests of an entire community, which is primarily Hispanic, and brings their concerns and worries to local authorities for their consideration. She also leads her neighborhood association and advocates for safer streets. Her tireless work has established her as a voice for her community.
Residents have raised their voices to improve security and reduce violence, she said, adding that the councilwoman of District 1 of the city of San Jose, bordering the city of Campbell, "knows about this community and what we need."
Road and pedestrian safety have been a top concern, especially because last year an 8-year-old boy lost his life on his way home from school. He was only supposed to walk one block, Rivera explained, but as he crossed the street a speeding driver hit him, and his babysitter and he lost his life instantly.
St. Lucy Parish, where the boy's family worships, organized a neighborhood Mass, and community members followed Massgoers to the church, where an assembly was held. "That school was always asking for a stop sign and a crosswalk, but that's where the counties divide and then they throw the ball to each other," said Rivera.
She explained that children walking home alone from school is a recurring scene as both parents usually work. "We met with the Silicon Valley organization and said we had to take action, so we talked to the district, and it all came together," she added.
Other efforts include a public lighting system that works correctly and permanently at night, as this prevents criminals from taking advantage of the darkness to commit crimes. They have also advocated for families facing evictions and other housing problems, seeking solutions with the local Housing Department.
"Ivonn's leadership efforts with her parish and in the community are truly a reflection of the Gospel in action and the mission of CCHD," said Bishop Timothy C. Senior of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the chairman of the USCCB's Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. "For more than fifty years, CCHD has worked to empower leaders like Ivonn — a mother, an immigrant, and a disciple of Christ — to work with others to address the root causes of poverty."
Rivera, who is deeply grateful for this recognition, said she just seeks to continue working with SVSC and her parish, so the voices of her fellow community members are heard.