Nfld. & Labrador

Jose Rivera arrived in N.L. as a refugee. He's spent the last 15 years welcoming others

A surprise party was thrown in Rivera's honour Tuesday, to celebrate his volunteer work with the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council.

Head of the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council celebrated for his work Tuesday

Jose Rivera and his wife, Pilar Munoz, arrived in St. John's from Colombia with their two children in 2002. (Amy Joy/CBC)

Jose Rivera is usually very tuned in to what's going on at the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC), but this week, he was out of the loop — and shocked when his colleagues threw him a surprise party.

Tuesday's celebration marked 15 years Rivera has been volunteering with RIAC, a group that serves as a first stop for many newcomers to the province. 

Rivera knows personally the difference a warm welcome can make — he arrived in St. John's in 2002, along with his wife and two kids, as a refugee from Colombia. 

He started volunteering with RIAC two years after that. He later became treasurer and then rose to director of the organization.

"There are several babies in town named after me," Rivera said. "Love — that's what I get."

Amparo Montoya Montoya is from Colombia. She met her husband, Daryl Pinksen, and moved to Newfoundland six years ago. (Amy Joy/CBC)

'A true gift'

Many praised Rivera for improving the lives of people coming to Newfoundland and Labrador, and helping them establish roots. 

Amparo Montoya Montoya is just one of the people that credits Rivera and RIAC, which is funded soley by donations, with helping her transition to a new country a little less daunting

"Your friendship and guidance have been a true gift," she told Rivera. 

One of Rivera's accomplishments includes Radio RIAC — a radio station dedicated to the growing voices of the new Newfoundlanders. It celebrated its one-year anniversary in May. 

Earlier this month, RIAC, along with another not-for-profit Partakes, marked the tenth anniversary of its Summer Culture Festival, which showcased handmade fashion, food and art from all over the globe.

Ernesto Ramirez, who is from Mexico City, considers Rivera 'family.' (Amy Joy/CBC)

While Rivera has played a big role in a lot of these events, it's his warm nature that earns the highest praise from people he welcomes.

Ernesto Ramirez arrived in Newfoundland two years ago from Mexico City, with only a backpack.

He didn't speak English, and was immediately put at ease when Rivera greeted him by saying, "Hola, Señor!"

"Jose is a big support for me," Ramirez said.

"I found a friend, I found my family — a new family here."

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show and Amy Joy