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On Island Profile: Marcella Rivera

Dec. 18, 2005 – "If I could make a difference in someone's child, so they could know the hurt that families feel when they lose a loved one, then I would have done something good."
These are the words Marcella Rivera lives by since her brother was killed in a still-unsolved apparent ambush in Estate Glynn in 2003. She feels that children these days are disconnected from the consequence of their violent actions and she has begun personal quest to make a difference in her community, one child at a time.
Rivera is the first elected Croixville apartments tenants' association president in Estate Grove Place, St. Croix. Croixville was destroyed in Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and was rebuilt about two years ago. The 81 unit complex is administered by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD).
Since being elected president, Rivera and other involved neighbors have been trying to make life better for the children in her neighborhood. She started an after school tutorial program, hosted movie nights, fun days, club nights and a steppers group, which were held in the community's recreation center in the evenings.
Rivera said the neighborhood kids are really interested in the steppers group and she would like to see the activity take off. Stepping is an art form that incorporates traditional African dancing and other elements like cheerleading, tap dancing and gymnastics. The 18-member group performed in their community and made their own uniforms by spray painting tee-shirts using stencils.
Rivera would like to see some outside instructors come and teach the kids new steps and for the group to get some better uniforms. The group was planning to participate in the Festival parade – but that has been put on hold, Rivera said.
"We need to get the kids involved in positive things so they don't go an do crazy things because they don't have any thing to do," Rivera said.
Rivera, speaking from her modest apartment where family photos dominate most of the wall space, said, "They say you are supposed to take pride in where you live." The apartment door is wide open, as it usually is.
"I always have kids in my house," Rivera said. She has three children of her own; 12-year-old Marseirra, 10-year-old Mark and three-year-old Kahmaria.
The neighborhood kids sometimes call her apartment home too. "They trust me so they come to me and I give them advice," Rivera said. "I am a mommy away from home."
Rivera said many children live in abusive homes but their situation is kept undercover. "Their parents smile at you every day," Rivera said. "The kids need someone to talk to who they trust."
Even though this is one neighborhood that seems to have come together for the sake of the children, there are always obstacles to be overcome.
Rivera said that since HUD has taken over the complex many of the programs instituted by the tenant's association have halted. She said because of the take over the community center has been closed to evening activities for about three months.
Rivera said HUD officials promised the tenants they would have a new manger after January who would live on the premises and make the community center available for evening activities again.
Rivera said the tenants will "do the best we can" until January. After that, if the center remains closed in the evening "you will be hearing from us," Rivera said.
Rivera realizes that some of the programs she helped begin could be continued outside, but she says there is a mosquito problem and the possibility of bad weather. She said she would wait it out to see if HUD would keep its promise. The tutorial program still is held in the center from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. with the help of instructors from the University of the Virgin Islands.
Rivera said other the community has other problem since HUD has been managing the property. The grass doesn't get cut as often and the only laundry room on the premises opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. Rivera said the tenants complain they can't do laundry after they get home from work. Minor repairs to the apartments take a long time to complete and there is some garbage in the stairwells, Rivera said. "We have two maintenance workers and they do the best they can," Rivera said.
I realize I need to do something that will make a difference," Rivera said. "So I began with my own community."

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