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A Week in the Life: Nilda Rivera, Bilingual Community Advocate

It might not surprise you that when forced to choose between hiring legal representation and meeting the basic needs of their families, most women often sacrifice the pursuit of their rights. CWEALF’s services help to eliminate that choice. Nilda Rivera fights the “legal justice gap” as CWEALF’s Bilingual Community Advocate. Through one-on-one in depth advocacy work, she’s helped thousands of women navigate overwhelming and complicated family law issues. Compassion, determination and coffee fuel her work each day!


7AM I need my coffee – badly! I start my weekly drive to New Haven listening to music on 96.5 FM. I change the station to hear a Spanish radio talk show on Bomba 97.1 FM and the long drive flies by!

9AM I meet clients in the New Haven community all day long at Junta for Progressive Action. In New Haven a common problem my clients face is the fear of deportation. So many mothers are afraid to go to court for much-needed child support because they’re threatened with deportation by their spouse.

6PM On my way home my granddaughter calls, “Oh my gosh Grandma,” she begins, and tells me there is a character on her favorite TV show that reminds her of me - someone who cares about everyone else. She makes me feel proud!


9AM After greeting the volunteers staffing the CWEALF Information & Referral (I&R) service hotline, I quickly check my calendar for the day and return calls to clients.

11AM I meet with a woman named Hannah. She brings her 6-month old baby boy with her. Hannah recently lost her job and needs to modify her child support order. Hannah doesn’t have to say it, but I know her stress and worry are constant. Over the years my office closet became a place to store donated items for clients and became a valuable resource called “Nilda’s Closet.” Donations help keep it filled with new clothes for kids, diapers and occasionally grocery store gift cards. I wish I could do more, but for now Hannah has some new clothes for her little boy.

Nilda's Closet donations in 2016Legal Education Program Staff (L to R): Nilda Rivera, Denise Rhone and Catherine Bailey celebrated the 2016 holiday season by filling Nilda's Closet with hats, mittens, socks and children's books. 

4PM Today at the library I meet with a woman who’s just beginning her custody case and needs assistance filing paperwork and preparation for her first court appearance to represent herself. We talk for an hour and a half with a plan to meet again in my office the following week. There’s time to meet with two more people before the end of my day.


9AM I grew up drinking fresh coffee grown by my father on our farm in Puerto Rico. My morning cup of coffee isn’t quite as robust, but it still lends a hand while I answer client emails and calls.

11AM I meet with my Legal Education Program team members to discuss the I Heart Justice Collaboration project and plans for training new Information & Referral (I&R) Service volunteers. My co-workers give me the opportunity to talk about the challenging issues my clients are going through, to discuss new community resources available to clients, and to laugh and support each other when we’re dealing with tough cases. I know I’m lucky to have these women in my life!

2PM After my last scheduled client meeting for the day, a woman named Julia walks in to the office seeking help with a difficult divorce. A friend told her to come to CWEALF.

4PM I call one of our Cooperating Attorneys for assistance with Julia’s complicated divorce case. Thankfully, our Cooperating Attorneys are dedicated to helping people access the justice system and Julia will get the legal advice she needs. I’ll be there to help guide her through the process.


10 AM I’m in court again with my client, Mary. “Estoy preocupada (I’m nervous),” she tells me. I met Mary a few months ago and immediately referred her to a domestic violence agency. When she was ready, Mary returned to meet with me and I translated information she found confusing and referred her to an attorney for free legal advice. Now she’s armed with the information she needs to represent herself. I’ve been with her through the whole process attending each court appearance to provide moral support as she faces her abusive husband and his attorney. She won’t have to face her abuser alone. “Todo vas estar bien (everything will be okay),” I reply, and squeeze her hand.

6PM My dog Rocky is jumping with joy to see me and we take a walk through my neighborhood before the sun begins to set.


9AM I gather up I&R brochures and plenty of my business cards for my Friday outing to visit different community agencies. Word of mouth is a common way clients find my advocacy service, so it’s critical to introduce myself to as many social service providers and community agencies as possible.

10AM One of our dedicated volunteers answering the Information & Referral Service asks to meet with me. I advise her on what information to provide to a caller she spoke with earlier. These highly trained volunteers make it possible for me to spend more time with my advocacy clients. Every year volunteers spend over 1,200 hours answering calls to the I&R Service!

Information and Referral Volunteer

Volunteers like Graham make a difference every day for the women and families who rely on CWEALF's Information & Referral Service when they're facing difficult legal issues. Our Information & Referral Service answered calls for help from 1,277 people this year!


12PM An emergency call comes from a woman named Christine who is representing herself needs help this afternoon in court to request increased visitation with her child. I’ve spoken briefly with Christine once, but when she reaches out for help I rearrange my schedule so I can meet her at the court hearing. Christine has struggled with addiction but is doing well and wants to be there for her daughter.

3PM After the hearing we sit outside the courthouse and talk about what happened. I let her cry. I listen to her. We make a plan of action and we will meet again so she is better prepared for her next hearing. I leave with a heavy heart knowing it’ll be a long road for Christine, but I’ll be with her.

5PM It’s been quite a busy week for me and I’m ready to relax with family. I have a surprise for my grandson – a piggy bank! I’m looking forward to his big smile.

 Nilda Rivera

"In my role at CWEALF, I’ve learned that people can overcome intimidating and difficult situations when they have the right tools, information and support. The strength and resilience of the women and families I meet inspires me every day. Thank you to our donors and supporters, volunteers and Cooperating Attorneys for being there for women like Hannah, Julia, Christine, Mary and the hundreds of women who rely on CWEALF’s Legal Education Program and services every year. Muchas gracias a todos." ~ Nilda Rivera 


CWEALF’s Information & Referral Service: 860.524.0601 or toll free 800.479.2949| Hours: Mon-Thurs 9-2 and Friday 9-1

Contact Legal Education & Outreach Coordinator Denise Rhone at 860.247.6090 or for more information about volunteering, interning or becoming a Cooperating Attorney.

Support CWEALF’s Legal Education Program today with a tax-deductible donation. Thank you!

By CWEALF at 30 Dec 2016, 20:16 PM



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