City bids farewell to Erin Rivera in emotional send-off

Rivera leaves the Rec Dept after 27 years (photo credit: Julie Reichle)

Erin Rivera said last week that the “trauma” of leaving her job of 27 years at the Piedmont Recreation Department wasn’t quite upon her yet, but that may have changed by Monday night, when she got an outpouring of love during an official goodbye from the City Council.

Rivera, for 24 years the city’s recreation supervisor, is set to retire Friday. But on Monday, as council members were wiping tears from their eyes, Rivera was congratulated for molding the Rec Department into what it has become. Of all city departments, Mayor Teddy Gray King said, it’s been Rec that “created the most cohesion and sense of community” in Piedmont.

“I think we made some really magical traditions in town,” Rivera told the council. 

After working as a “house parent/counselor” at a Marin County group home and with a City of San Rafael afterschool program, San Francisco native Rivera joined the Piedmont Recreation Department in 1993 as the Wildwood Schoolmates site coordinator. She has been recreation supervisor since 1996, and supervised the Schoolmates before/afterschool program for many years. She also oversaw the city’s popular Counselor in Training youth job training program.

“Literally, thousands of kids’ first job experiences, they started with us in fifth grade,” Rivera said.

She beefed up the Rec Department’s preschool program from an enrichment program into a full preschool program, with six classes being offered five days a week. She’s been credited with creating or reshaping most of the department’s signature programs, and with going the extra mile to keep kids entertained … whenever possible, by letting them play.

“I kept looking for ways to promote ‘community’ in Piedmont, and this was a place that responded to that,” Rivera said in an interview last week. “I will always ask myself, ‘Is this good for the kids?’ Tech may have changed, but the fundamental joy kids have hasn’t really changed.” 

She said she clearly remembers the joy she experienced at summer day camps in Golden Gate Park, building forts and running around. She thinks it’s important kids experience that sort of joy.

This past Monday night, most of the council members offered anecdotes about how Rivera was one of the first people they met when they came to Piedmont, or when they brought their young children to the Schoolmates program.

King said she met Rivera 12 years ago, at a Piedmont Neighbors and Newcomers social event. She was talking with another future City Council member at that event, Jen Cavenaugh, and “fretting about what to do about preschool” for her kids. Cavenaugh told her to talk to Rivera. “‘Erin is your go-to woman,’” said KIng. As for King’s own kids, she told Rivera, “You helped make their early childhood years a success.”‘

Last week, Rivera said she took particular pride in providing kids with fun, safe and educational programs, and in serving as an “initial contact” looking not only to get their kids into good programs, but to become part of the community, connecting parents with services and with other parents.

“It’s very satisfying to create programs that are needed and missing, serving a group of kids who hadn’t been served,” she said.

Of course, it wasn’t only kids she served.

“You’re so supportive of the parents; you’ve been there for us and for many others,” Jeff Dorman told Rivera Monday.  

Jen Colton called in to tell Rivera she is “the most creative problem solver I’ve ever known.” That came in handy when Rivera and Recreation Director Chelle Putzer led the effort to rework department programs to serve kids under COVID-19 pandemic conditions. The result was a tweaked set of offerings done almost entirely outdoors. She hopes some of those classes stay outdoors.

“We were kind of badasses, on the cutting edge, keeping kids happy,”  Rivera said. “We did really amazing things this year; we followed the science, we followed the safety.

“For a tiny department, we’re mighty in what we do,” she said.

Rivera stayed with Piedmont Rec long enough for graduation ceremonies on Wednesday. As for next week, and beyond, Rivera said, she’s envisioning taking the summer off, spending time with her husband and three kids, ages 23, 20, and 17 (instead of planning and executing a full schedule of summer Rec Department activities). After that, she said, “nothing is off the table.”

She lives just outside Piedmont in Oakland, and anticipates staying in contact with many of the people she’s worked with and otherwise known for years. It’s hard to leave those people, she said.

“They trusted me with their babies, their toddlers, their elementaries, their middle-schoolers, their high schoolers,” Rivera said Monday. “And they come back for their weddings, and it’s like full circle.” 

Contact Sam Richards at sam.richards4344@gmail.com

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