Diane Rivera, winner of the 2018 HILLTOP Award for Agency Staff/Volunteer Achievement

When it comes to finding a job, many people in Southeast Portland turn to Diane Rivera for help. A Worksource Advisor at the nonprofit SE Works, Rivera often helps job seekers who have been in prison, are new to the country, or have battled with addictions. In Rivera, they find an empathetic advisor with a great network who can often provide the help they need to get a job.

“She once spent time going through nearly 100 pages of a state health insurance application form with me, because she knew it was daunting and time-consuming without her expert guidance,” said a former client who anonymously nominated Rivera for her HILLTOP Award.

“Every person I see in my work is asking for help,” Rivera says. “No one walks in as a job seeker having their best day ever. In this country, we’re not raised to ask for help. So it is a humbling experience. Think about it from the client’s point of view. Most of us have experienced job loss, so you know what it was like.”

SE Works usually works with low-income, underserved populations, including at-risk youth involved in the justice system, unemployed adults, immigrants, people living with disabilities, and people returning from incarceration. But Rivera has helped job seekers from all walks of life.

“One day I met an executive of a local well-known company. His position was eliminated. Think about what that man was thinking coming in to be my client. He needed as much help finding a job as someone getting out of prison. In fact, I helped the executive and a client coming out of prison that same day.”

Rivera learned empathy partly from growing up in an Air Force family who lived on bases around the world. Her mother is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Japan. “I remember how she had to find a transitional job when she moved to the U.S. Now I help immigrants who have professional credentials from their home country find meaningful work here. Some are doctors and nurses who can’t work in those professions here. We help them find transitional employment and then move to more of a career track.”

After helping clients here for four decades, Rivera has a network she can rely on to match job seekers with the services they need. Her advice to anyone considering counseling work? “Be 100 percent present when you are with your client or customer. And be that objective person to coach and cheerlead the job seeker to find the skills that might be useful to an employer.”

What difference has Rivera’s work made in her own life? “It helps to go home after work and know you helped somebody,” she says. “We do it to serve and improve our community: I live here and these clients are my neighbors.”