David Rivera Story
David Rivera

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When David Rivera was about eight years old he spent one year at the YCS Holley Center, in Hackensack. He has never forgotten the experience – or the kindness the staff showed him despite very difficult personal circumstances.

Fast forward twenty-three years. David, now, a successful businessman wanted to do something for the children living at the home. “I never forgot YCS and it was always in my mind to give back to the home and the children,” says David, 31.

When he called the Holley Center to see if he could sponsor a toy drive for the children, fate stepped in and he found himself talking to his former unit counselor, Pete Hernandez.

“I was shocked at how much David remembered about me and the Holley Center,” says Pete, now an assistant site administrator at Holley.

“David had a lot of energy and was always eager to help out at the home. He earned extra privileges by setting the tables in the dining room and sweeping up after meals,” noted Hernandez adding, “I always felt that he was going to make it.”

It is not a coincidence that, today, David is co-owner of Clean Eats Meal Prep – a company that prepares and delivers healthy meals to customers’ homes or businesses.

Reflecting back on his time at Holley, David recalls feeling frightened and lonely at the beginning. He was very close to his grandfather, and leaving his home was very painful. “My grandfather worked long hours, 7 days a week; and my step-grandmother felt that we weren’t her kids and it was too hard for her to take care of us,” explains David. That, coupled with the fact the home was not big enough to accommodate David and his two siblings resulted in the state stepping in.

David and identical twin brother, Angel, were removed from their grandfather’s home by DYFS. “Angel was sent to Davis House [in Newark], because together the both of us were a handful…If one of us went off, then so did the other,” admits David.

What David remembers most about YCS is the kindness of the staff. Twenty-three years later he can still recall many of their names: Jason, Troy, Gene, Owen. “At the end of the day, they all just wanted us to straighten up and be able to go back to our homes.”

Most of all David remembers Pete. “Everyone said we looked like each other. Pete took me home to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family* and treated me like his kid,” recalls David.

According to David, the most difficult part of being separated from his family was the end of day or weekend family visits. Most of all, he missed his grandfather. “When I asked him why he never came to visit me, he said he couldn’t bear to see me at the home…But, he always told me to listen to the counselors and be good because they were trying to help me,” says David.