When you live where Teodoro Rivera lives, it’s hard not to lend a helping hand.
Rivera lives directly across the hallway from the Health and Social Services office on the first floor of New Community Roseville Senior, where NCC staff assist both seniors and disabled residents with a wide range of needs.
Care Coordinator Alisha Chatman-Jenkins described Rivera, known as “Teddy,” as playing “a special role in the building by being my interpreter for fellow Hispanic residents who do not speak English.”
“Any activities in the building he is always active and willing to lend a helping hand,” she added.
Rivera puts it this way: “I’m her right hand,” he said, referring to Chatman-Jenkins.
Recently, Rivera tackled a difficult task with Social Services: meeting with a Spanish-speaking resident to discuss regular upkeep of their apartment.
“If they don’t take care of their apartment, they’re not going to take care of themselves,” Rivera, 75, said.
When someone needs help translating paperwork, Rivera opens his door and welcomes the resident to sit at his dining room table. He keeps his apartment meticulously clean, with photographs of his grandchildren lining the wall, kitchen pristine, and his acoustic guitar within arm’s reach. A Vietnam War veteran, Rivera credits his service in the Army and his upbringing with instilling the habit of cleanliness.
He says he also keeps his kitchen orderly because he loves to cook. Seafood is his specialty—ceviche, shrimp salad and paella, to name a few—and when there’s a gathering in Roseville Senior, Rivera enjoys bringing his signature dishes.
When Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey in 2012 and cut the power to his building, Rivera used a fuel can to help his neighbors with small comforts. He personally delivered a cup of hot water to a woman on the third floor who wanted to drink tea. “She was so happy when I gave her that cup of hot water,” Rivera recalled.
“I always tell him that he is a model resident and wish I had a building full of Teddy’s,” Chatman-Jenkins said. In 1992, Rivera was honored by NCC as “Father Of The Year” and proudly displays his plaque on a shelf in his living room.
Born in 1939 in Orocovis, Puerto Rico, Rivera arrived in the U.S. at age 16 and lived with his older brother, Tony, and worked on a farm in Passaic picking tomatoes and cabbages for a year. He worked in a factory until 1965 when, at age 25, Rivera was drafted into the Army and spent nine months in Vietnam. An ardent supporter of veterans, Rivera is often spotted wearing his Vietnam veteran cap or t-shirt. He says he also donates $10 or $20 to Veterans Affairs, “whatever I can.”
The second youngest of eight siblings, Rivera returned to Puerto Rico after serving in Vietnam but decided to soon move back to New Jersey and began working for the Teamsters Local 945. Before he was drafted, Rivera and a group of “kids from the block” formed a rock/blues band that performed at bars in Paterson and as far away as Baltimore. Rivera played guitar, bass and drums but after his stint in the Army, the group dissolved. Rivera still plays guitar for his own enjoyment. In his free time, he spends time in Paterson with his son, Carlos, daughter, Carmen, and Carmen’s three children.