Helping people help people: Kristina Rivas-Jones

Kristina Rivas-Jones

TEXARKANA, Texas -- When the world is tumbling down around you, it's hard to know what to do, much less remember to breathe. It can feel overwhelming, and in the sea of hands reaching out to help -- you may not know which one to grab.

That's where Kristina Rivas-Jones comes in.

Jones is the coordinator for the Texarkana branch of 100 Families Alliance, a collective of 50 nonprofit organizations. Armed with the knowledge of each organization's specialty, Jones can make a customized plan to help each person that knocks on her door.

"Do you have your high school diploma? You may not have it right now, but you also may be fleeing a domestic violence issue," Jones said. "It doesn't make sense for us to get you enrolled in a GED program when you're trying to make sure that you and your kids are safe tonight."

Jones said she embraces Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which is a pyramid that shows what a person needs to live a full life. At the bottom of the pyramid are basic needs such as food, water and shelter. The top focuses on needs such as mental health, physical health, and dental health.

"Every single one of our families are evaluated," Jones said. "If they are in a crisis in any of those areas -- that's where we automatically start, and then we move up the ladder."

Jones has a unique background, which eventually brought her to the Literacy Council of Bowie and Miller counties.

She graduated from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences with a bachelor's degree in nuclear medicine and worked in a nuclear medicine lab for a few years. She then decided that she wanted a more person-to-person connection and applied for a job at Texas A&M-Texarkana, where she became coordinator of transfer student programs.

At TAMU-T, she met Jenny Walker, who eventually took over as executive director of the Literacy Council and offered Jones a job at the organization. Jones said she suffered from a bit of Imposter syndrome, often wondering why she was hired at TAMU-T. But for her supervisors, it was a no-brainer.

"They told me 'you can build these relationships, you can do these things,'" Jones said. "It was like 'Oh.' I just realized skills translate into higher education, but I loved it."

Jones' skills go beyond being able to connect with others and having an innate drive to succeed. She also has a story that her clients may be able to relate to.

Jones' parents relocated to Texarkana from South Texas in the late 1980s and moved into a trailer in her grandparents' backyard.

"My mother was pregnant with my sister, it was February, we were freezing cold from what I understand," Jones said.

Jones' father worked at the local school district as a technology coordinator when a librarian named Ginger Harmon learned of his family's living situation. Harmon has since passed away, but Jones thinks fondly of the effect Harmon had on her life.

Harmon lived on a property with her mother that had an additional little house next to theirs, and she told the Rivases that they were going to move in at an affordable rate.

"I'm the product of people stepping in," Jones said. "I remember (Harmon and her mother, Betty Hall) always being there, and the care they had for my family. We were really strangers off the street."

Jones said her desire was to always help others the way that her family was helped. Jones' father is now an economics professor at Texarkana College while her mother does volunteer work at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Jones' parents are proud of the work she does to help others in the community.

"I get to foster relationships," Jones said. That is incredible in itself -- to make a living just talking to people and helping them find solutions to their problems."