Looking back, even Cesar Rivaben is a little astonished at how far he has come in such a short period of time. Having grown up in Buenos Aires, Cesar immigrated to the United States in August of 2000. He arrived with $200 in his pocket and spoke no English. On May 22, Cesar walked across the stage at Woolsey Hall to receive his Associates degree in Business Administration from Gateway Community College.
After first arriving in the U.S., he worked various odd jobs in California, from roofing to dishwashing, just to get by. “In 2002 I got married and finally found a job in sales working for Bob’s Discount Furniture,” says Rivaben. The position was contingent upon him learning English within 90 days. “It was my goal and I knew that being in this type of job environment would help me excel in English,” said Rivaben.
He worked for Bob’s for five years while also working at Raymour & Flanigan. He also began to run a successful cleaning business franchise. “Sometimes I was working nearly a hundred hours a week between being at Bob’s during the day and running the business in the evening but I was doing well."
Then, according to Cesar, everything "went sideways" in 2008 and 2009 with the economy. “We had to move in with my in-laws [in Connecticut] and I returned to working in retail at Pilgrim Furniture,” he said. His mother-in-law encouraged him to go back to school. Rivaben had received his GED in 2012 since he only completed two years of high School in Argentina. He recalls, “I was so scared about going back to school because English was not my first language but I knew I had to try."
Rivaben registered for two classes in fall 2012 at Gateway and then took two more classes during the winter session. For the last two years, he has been taking five classes during the fall and spring semesters and two classes each during the winter and summer sessions.
“It was difficult working and going to school, especially with our three year old at home but my wife and her family have been so incredibly supportive and all the professors and staff at Gateway are really wonderful." Now, leaving Gateway with his Associate’s degree in hand and an exemplary GPA, Rivaben will begin classes in the fall to complete his Bachelor’s degree at Quinnipiac University. He hopes to pursue a career in commercial banking.
“I’m very excited but also sad to leave because Gateway has been like another family for me. Of course it’s all part of the journey and I just hope it keeps going in the same upward direction." Rivaben eventually hopes that he can motivate young high school students to stay determined and persevere in school by sharing his story.
Karen Tyson was not an overachiever. In high school she was content with Ds. Of course, like many high school seniors, college was the obvious next step. So Tyson began her freshman year in 1978 majoring in telecommunications at Morgan State University. She dropped out after one year.
Her priorities turned to what most young people desire: a sense of autonomy. Working, making money and establishing her independence became her goals. For sometime after, Tyson worked in retail. Then she moved to Dallas and worked for the IRS. While living in Dallas, she had a child and began dabbling in what would become a 20-year battle with substance abuse. Despite her addiction, she was able to hold down steady employment. In fact, she worked for Blue Cross/Blue Shield for 10 years before relocating to Atlanta, Ga.
Eventually, drug addiction caught up with Tyson; the price was three years in prison. In prison, she had ample time to reflect on her choices. “I learned how to cope with my disease and I decided to create some goals for myself. I wanted to go back to school to become a substance abuse counselor. I was so inspired by the counselors who helped me,” she said.
After she was released, Tyson moved in with her father. The goals that she set out for herself were straightforward. Find a job, save up enough money to buy a car and register for classes. Because of her record, she was not able to find the type of work that she had previously held so she took a job at Whole Foods in Milford. She worked double shifts and came in on weekends when they needed her. Eventually she was able to purchase a car. She signed up for classes in the fall of 2010.
Tyspn recalls when she first began the DARC program at Gateway: “I was really intimidated by school and studying and I just didn’t think I had what it took."
One of her first assignments was to interview another counselor. Prior to receiving this assignment, she had struck up a conversation with one of her regular customers at Whole Foods. After mentioning her studies in the DARC program the woman revealed that she was a drug and alcohol counselor herself and gave Tyson her business card. She decided to visit the woman who worked at the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center. The woman, whose name was Kathy Sable, was the director of the center. She set up Tyson to interview one of the other counselors and then called her into her office. “She asked me if I would like a job.” Tyson told her that she had only just started her training in the DARC program. “I think you can work here as a case manager. Are you available for orientation on Oct 10?”
This week, 52-year-old Karen Tyson graduated from Gateway's DARC program. She has been working as a case manager at Cornell Scott Hill Health Center since 2010 and runs two sober houses in conjunction with Access to Recovery for recovering men and women in New Haven. Looking back over her journey she remarked “…because of the DARC program I now have a wealth of knowledge to be able to serve the people in the community who suffer from this disease." Tyson is currently pursuing her B.S. in Human Services at Post University.