Personal Story

Impact Feature Issue on Direct Support Workforce Development

My American Dream


Araceli Rivera is a Service Coordinator, SOREO, Tucson, Arizona.

My name is Araceli Rivera. I emigrated to the United States of America in 2001 from Mexico. I am a single mother with three children. My husband and I came to America because we wanted to work hard to create a better future for ourselves and our children. My husband did not like the USA and he returned to Mexico within three years. I chose to stay with my children without his support.

In 2001 I started working as a direct support aide with an agency in Tucson, Arizona. I liked working with families, especially the children. I liked helping and seeing them grow and learn. There were many things I did not like about my first employer, however. My interview lasted five minutes. I was required to work seven days per week; I would leave home at 6:00 a.m. and not get home until 7:30 p.m. I received no formal training when I started (except First Aid and CPR), and this training was in English. The company provided services to many people with developmental disabilities. I do not understand why they did not properly train their staff. I decided I had to leave. I knew I had to spend more time with my children. A mother should be able to see her children off to school.

In late 2001 I interviewed with SOREO. It was a long interview and my sister translated. I was drawn to SOREO because I liked the philosophy. Wendy Sokol, CEO, spoke about choice and dignity. She referred to the people they supported as “our families” and to the staff as “my staff.” There was a feeling of caring and belonging.

I worked as a DSP with SOREO for two years. When I started, SOREO had just begun to translate all their training and forms into Spanish. I would help with the translation so that it made sense to employees from Mexico. SOREO always offered information in Spanish or through the help of translators. They created an environment where you could learn and you felt comfortable to ask questions. My questions were always responded to in a positive way. I was matched with families where I felt comfortable. Some of the families spoke Spanish and English. They would teach me English and I would teach them Spanish. My schedule worked for me and my family. SOREO was sensitive to my needs and understood when I needed to be with my children or to return to Mexico to be with my family. As my English improved SOREO offered me hours in the office to help translate for and train other DSPs. Wendy was my mentor. She gave me opportunities to learn and advance. She had faith in my skills. God brought me to SOREO so that our lives might cross-over.

In 2003, I became a Service Coordinator. SOREO paid for me to attend college to improve my English. The classes made me feel more confident. Today I am one of SOREO’s top Service Coordinators. I am proud of what I do. I know I make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. I have grown my referrals so that I now have an assistant who I am training so that she can have the same opportunities that I had. With hard work she will one day become a Service Coordinator. In July 2006, I bought my own home. I have worked hard to achieve everything that I have, but I always believed that through hard work I could make a difference and also achieve the American dream.