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A Path from Unemployment to Serving People in Need

Sonia Rivera

Sonia Rivera, far right, celebrated with her team after finishing the inaugural Walk Against Hunger in Bridgeport in April 2010. Team Sonia Rivera won third prize for team fundraising prizes for the Walk in Bridgeport.

This time last year, Sonia Rivera was unemployed. She lost her job in April 2009 after she was laid off as part of a national company’s efforts to cut costs and downsize. It was the first time since college that Sonia didn’t have a job.

For 16 years, Sonia was a traffic manager, managing more than a dozen employees and a fleet of eight to nine trucks a day that served the tri-state area. It was a job she loved and enjoyed doing.

But like many hundreds of thousands of workers, the poor economy forced Sonia’s company to cut jobs, driving about 30 workers to the unemployment lines.

Sonia took some time off for herself, but quickly started to look for a job in earnest. She said she was fortunate because her family, including then 10-year-old daughter Vanessa, had her husband’s income and her unemployment benefits to help them through the trying time.

Sonia, who initially didn’t know where the unemployment office in Bridgeport was located, started going to the Connecticut Department of Labor office on Lafayette Square to take as many classes as she could to improve her computer and job skills. She had not searched for a job since she graduated from college about 16 years ago.

“I was there every single day,” Sonia recalled. “I met a lot of wonderful people who were willing to help. Going to the unemployment office was so beneficial for me. The counselors there were so wonderful. They knew what I was going through and knew how to guide me.”

Sonia was the first to admit that her situation wasn’t as dire as others, who were only collecting $60 a week on unemployment. She said she was fortunate that she was able to collect the maximum benefit.

But after months of being unemployed, Sonia started to worry about what would happen to her family’s finances after the unemployment benefits ran out. She did all she could to find a job. She attended job and career fairs, networked with as many people as she could face-to-face as well as through social media.

It was a tough job market, Sonia said.

In the fall of 2009, Sonia learned about Connecticut Food Bank after watching “The Biggest Loser” television show on NBC. She realized that unlike before when she worked, she now had the time to give back to her community. She called Connecticut Food Bank to volunteer.

Sonia started doing office work for the Food Bank in October 2009. She came about once a week to the Food Bank to fold letters, stuff envelopes and help with some office tasks.

Then, as Connecticut Food Bank searched for a new Fairfield Warehouse Distribution Coordinator, Sonia’s story and resume got passed along to the administration at the Food Bank.

“I just got into the habit of sharing my story with everybody. I wanted to be open with people. This is who I am. This is my story,” Sonia said.

On Feb. 11, 2010, Sonia started at the Food Bank’s Fairfield warehouse. This month, she will be heading to Waterbury to manage the warehouse under an interim appointment.

She has since gone back to the unemployment office in Bridgeport to share her success story and give others hope that an opportunity may be just around the corner.

“Be positive. Don’t get into that “I-give-up-I-quit” attitude. Remain as positive as you can; surround yourself with positive people; look for all the resources available to you; and just get up and go,” Sonia said.

Posted by Gladys Alcedo, Communications Coordinator of Connecticut Food Bank

This article was posted in Unemployment, Volunteers.

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One Comment

  1. Gregor Steger
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    I have had the pleasure of working with Sonia for the previous 5 years up to her being laid off……How wonderful to know that she picked herself up….and dusted herself off and went about being the person she always was…….Loyal, honest,caring and most of all a person you can count on when in distress……how fitting she would land her feet right where I believe she belongs…….helping others ……what a great story of never give up no matter what……please let Sonia know how proud her old co-worker Gregor Steger is of her……when she walked into your doors…..that’s when you became the lucky ones….as an example and if you have the time look up the famous quote by Teddy Roosevelt called “Man in the Arena” and you will think of Sonia when you read it…..have a great day…….Gregor Steger

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