Community Profile: Teen Lends Helping Hand

By Amanda Moses

The COVID-19 crisis shutdown New York City for months in the spring, and while some students relished their time at home through remote learning, one teenager took that time to make a difference in her community.

Sixteen-year-old Arianna Rivera has always been a humanitarian, so when the pandemic hit, she could not just sit back while the elderly lacked aid and those around her suffered from food insecurity. Rivera and her mother, Jeannette Reyes, decided to create care packages for the older adults in Spring Creek Towers, particularly individuals they knew who were unable to go grocery shopping or pick-up items for themselves. What began as a small endeavor soon became a series of volunteer efforts made by Rivera, who made certain to follow all of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) precautions by continuously washing her hands, maintaining a social distance, and always wearing a mask while volunteering.

“You just have to keep yourself safe and be mindful of it,” Rivera said, a high schooler attending the Mary Louis Academy.

Between the end of March and April, Reyes would drive Rivera throughout Spring Creek Towers as she delivered care packages filled with supplies, such as toiletries, paper towels, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and other items, which they purchased themselves. After contacting their elderly neighbors, they supplied what they call, COVID defense kits.   

“It was nice to go out and see people and make them happy, and to just be interacting with people and meeting new people,” Rivera said.

Driven to continue helping others, Rivera moved on to aid Sisters With Purpose (SWP) during their bi-monthly food pantry distributions.  As a deeply empathetic individual, Rivera saw how the coronavirus did not just ravage people’s health, but it had a huge economic impact on families as many lost their jobs and could no longer afford food.

During the SWP’s Saturday morning food pantry, Rivera greeted those waiting outside of the Brooklyn Sports Club’s lower level, distributing bags upon bags of food to each family.  She didn’t mind the strenuous activities since she knew that she was making a small difference in each person’s life.

When fall arrived, Rivera knew that the children of Spring Creek Towers’ would need cheering up now that their favorite holidays would be significantly different due to social distancing and economic hardships. So, she decided to join the Starrett City Tenant Association’s Harvest Festival’s giveaway, which allowed children in the community to receive a free pumpkin to decorate.  The socially distant activities were another great opportunity to bring joy to those who needed it most.

Over the past year, Rivera has dedicated her time to exercising, focusing on her studies, and aiming to get out and help as many people as possible. In doing so, she says she was able to maintain a semblance of normalcy as most New Yorkers’ quarantined.

“I don’t want to spend more time looking at a screen,” Rivera said, discussing—why as a teenager—she is motivated to keep moving and volunteering.  

Her experience during this dire time has rendered Rivera hyper-aware of the socio-economic disparities in low-income and black and brown communities, further inspiring her to follow her dream of working in law enforcement.

“It makes you aware of what you have and what you can lose. There are things you take for granted, like going to school in-person or cheering at basketball games. You just think those things are just given, like you can just go to those things, anytime. But now we can see that those things can close at any time,” Rivera said. 

Photos courtesy of Jeannette Reyes