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Episode 2 of 9

Episode 2: Lillian Rivera

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station description Joyous, effective, transformative leadership for a more just and equitable world.
The Leading From the Inside Out Podcast
Duration: 24:56
In this episode, Lillian Rivera, Executive Director of Hetrick-Martin New Jersey, talks about what inspires her, what brings her joy, and her hopes for our collective future.
The song in this episode is "Garden" by Spazz Cardigan.
Episode Transcript
joi foley: I'm joi foley, and I'm your host for th
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In this episode, Lillian Rivera, Executive Director of Hetrick-Martin New Jersey, talks about what inspires her, what brings her joy, and her hopes for our collective future.
The song in this episode is "Garden" by Spazz Cardigan.
Episode Transcript
joi foley: I'm joi foley, and I'm your host for this episode of Rockwood's Leading From The Inside Out podcast.
joi foley: The guest for this episode is Lillian Rivera. Lillian is the executive director of the Hetrick Martin Institute, New Jersey. She's a writer, advocate, youth ally, and a Latino lesbian wife and mother to two girls. With over a decades worth of experience in youth development, she has facilitated workshops and trainings across the country on working with LGBTQ youth, and was nominated for the Presidential Advisory Council in HIV/AIDS. She's written articles on her work and her life as a Latino lesbian mom for Huffington Post and Feminist Wire. She's an alum of the 2015 Fellowship for Racial and Gender Justice Leaders in the HIV/AIDS Movement. Lily joined me via video chat, and I asked her 10 questions about her leadership.
joi foley: Can you share more about the kind of work that Hetrick Martin does?
Lillian Rivera: Absolutely. Hetrick Martin Institute, and specifically Hetrick Martin Institute, New Jersey, where I'm the ED, is nonprofit organization, and we serve LGBTQ youth. What we do is we have a unique model where we create the environment where LGBTQ youth are affirmed and nurtured in ways that they aren't in other spaces. So we have a youth development sort of do the same youth work that other adolescent providers do, just through the lens of LGBT affirmation. I like to go beyond inclusion. Right? I want to affirm and nurture our young people in order to have them internalize that they are whole, beautiful individuals that have a great life ahead of them, and their gender identity and sexual orientation and race and class, all of those things, are just facets of who they are and they're all beautiful and they all should be valued. And the rest of our work is really youth development work, giving young people the skills and the resources they need to thrive in their life.
joi foley: Do you have any favorite moments or memories from your work there?
Lillian Rivera: Yeah. We had the unique experience to be able to work with young people from the age of 13 to 21 in New York City. They worked with them until they're 24, so you see a huge progression in their growth. I think every time a young person reaches a milestone and they succeed around things that they thought they weren't going to succeed, it's a huge celebration. So they graduate high school, it's a great celebration, or they get their first job and they get their first paycheck. It's amazing. Or they get their name changed and they're affirmed in ways that they've never been affirmed, or for some kids is just us saying to them, Oh, you want a binder or you need a binder? Sure, let's go to the pantry and get it.
Lillian Rivera: And that one small thing just let's them move in the world in ways that are transformative. For another person, they might miss that opportunity, but we get to see all of that beauty, in terms of their growth and their blossoming, because we are affirming things that other people will alienate them around.
joi foley: Do you ever get inspired by the youth that you work with?
Lillian Rivera: Yeah, I am inspired every day. A lot of the young people that we work with are battling extreme poverty. I see their hope and their inspiration and I see their possibilities and I see them having that thirst for life that I think for me, someone who's been doing social services for so long, I could not have sustained myself if I weren't working with young people. I had the experience of working with adults in the past who were HIV positive and were either homeless, had a history of homelessness.
Lillian Rivera: They're usually battling mental illness, managing the addiction, and it just really crushed my soul because the world had been so unfair to them. The world had not put anything in place to address the issues that they were dealing with, and that's when I knew I had to work with young people. I had to work with young people, one, because they are not cynical or bitter, regardless of their life situations. They are a light to follow. I also find that I make the best decisions when I let young people lead. They're on top of things. They understand things in the world that my 47 year old mind doesn't understand anymore and they're a constant inspiration to keep going, to be able to give them platforms to lift them up, open doors for them, because their ability to innovate and think of ways that older folks don't is new and vibrant.
Lillian Rivera: I think I've always relied on youth leadership, and the older I get, the more certain I am that I want young people making d
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