Leading by Example: Cassandra Rivera
Helping others has always been important to Cassandra Rivera. Over the span of her 19 years as a mental health clinician, she has worked with a wide-ranging population, including families, individuals with substance abuse issues, children, and teens, and now as the Program Director for Vibrant’s Older Adult Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) program. As a member of the Vibrant team since 2008, she credits her father for her dedication to working with and advocating for others.
“My father has been my greatest inspiration and teacher. As a Vietnam veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD, I’ve observed the many struggles he has experienced while navigating the mental health system. This inspired me to enter and remain working within the mental health field, and to begin working within the older adult population. Being my father’s greatest advocate has motivated me to be the voice for many of the older adults in our ACT program who cannot advocate for themselves.”
Working with participants in their own homes, Cassandra and her team help older adults learn the skills that will help them achieve their goals, establish independence, and live meaningful lives in their communities. This includes assistance with family life and social relationships, housing support, school and work opportunities, health visits and education, medication support, money management, and mental health treatment and relapse prevention. Most importantly, they work to cultivate independence and personal empowerment.
Given the deeply personal nature of this work, our Older Adult ACT team members are often advocates, ensuring the people they serve have the resources needed to live fulfilling lives. This has become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, Cassandra visited with a participant to assess her psychological needs related to COVID-19. While there, Cassandra noticed the woman, who happens to be blind, had no food or toiletries in the home. Rather than report that to another agency to manage, Cassandra personally bought the woman 10 days’ worth of groceries and toiletries. She then spent two hours visiting with the woman, referred Meals on Wheels, and submitted a request to buy her a microwave. Over the ensuing weeks, the participant relied on this consistent support and now counts Cassandra as one of her most trusted clinicians, which has led to important discussions about the participant’s future, including ways to remain independent within her current living arrangement and the future possibility of assisted living.
This is just one example of Cassandra using her empathy to make a difference. Recently, Cassandra’s dedication to helping others was recognized by City & State New York, a local publication focusing on politics and policy, as a Bronx Hero. Cassandra was named alongside others for her bravery and dedication in keeping New York City going during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cassandra credits her team in helping her to receive this recognition. “I was surprised to receive the reward, especially since this is the work that my team and I do every day. We all work to help our participants and to ensure they’re safe during the pandemic. I didn’t expect to be singled out.”
Given Cassandra’s deep dedication to the ACT participants, it may come as a surprise to learn that she did not always plan to work with older adults. In her early career, Cassandra found the older adult population to be challenging, yet she was excited when the opportunity to work on the Older Adult ACT program arose.
“I was drawn to the role within the ACT team to challenge myself and to use what I’ve learned from helping older adults to become a better clinician. I believe that if I’m not challenged, I’m not learning. I’m so happy I took the leap because I’ve attained a great amount of knowledge by working with them. The population that I would once shy away from has by far become the most rewarding and best learning experience of my career!”
Cassandra’s work is a testament to the compassion and care that we at Vibrant provide to everyone we serve, as well as to each other, during this time when the world is experiencing such turmoil and uncertainty. It’s our commitment and ethical standards that distinguish Vibrant as an organization, one that promotes wellness, support, kindness, respect, and pride in assisting others. We are so proud to have Cassandra leading the way in our Older Adult ACT program, and thankful that your generosity has helped us to make a difference for older adults during this critical time.