If you have to use one word to describe Nina Rivas, use “activist.” Every facet of her life, from her career to her family, is committed to social change.
“You’re only as good as your community is,” says Nina. “The more you uplift it, the better everyone is going to be. And I think it’s important to lead by example, not just tell kids “you should be a good person and help out.” They need to see it as a way of life.”
In 2003, she rallied neighbors for a clean up at a local park, but the turnout was less than she expected. It inspired her and Jeremy to create the Friends of Portage Township organization. Both of them are grassroots activists and want to help their community with their own hands.
“Township government is small. There’s only so many people you can have on staff so [Friends of Portage Township] is a way people can volunteer and be a part of something. These people live in Portage Township so they are a stakeholder in the community.”
Nina knows firsthand the struggles that township government goes through. She has been the Chief of Staff at the Portage Township Trustees' Office for six years.
The organization helps to supplement the funding the Trustees cannot provide to the Parks Department. They worked with the Parks Superintendent to get things going. Friends of Portage Township Trustees is a non-profit that hosts fundraisers and other events that get people involved, like recycling projects. The Rivas kids are among those who pitch in.
The Trustee’s office has its own ways of keeping active in the community.
“Township government is unique,” Nina explains. “It’s the oldest form of government. It allows you to be at the forefront of serving someone in need.”
Their Energy Assistance Program begins in November every year. It offers heating assistance to people who do not normally qualify for other government support, making sure that energy companies cannot shut off power during the winter months nor into early spring. They also help people with rent year-round and with cooling bills in the summer.
The Trustee’s Office does a few drives throughout the year. They collect school supplies to distribute in August, Thanksgiving baskets so every family can have a traditional meal, and a Santa Claus drive to help out at Christmas.
As Chief of Staff, every day is different for Nina. She never knows if she is going to be working on insurance claims or finding shelter for a homeless citizen. They have an in-house food pantry she volunteers at when needed. Sometimes her focus is on planning events.
“It’s all over the place. In a good way.”
Nina and her husband Jeremy live with their two children in Portage Township. In her spare time, Nina drives her children to their extracurriculars. Mya is in gymnastics and Xavier does both wrestling and baseball. Nina is a fan of the morals that athletics instill in her children, like self confidence and being coachable. These traits have led to her own success.
Nina has been on the Portage Township Education Foundation board, a member of the South Haven Homeowner’s Association, and a member of the Twin Creek Conservancy District Board. Nina owns a business called Shoreline Promotions that lets her dabble in marketing.
“I like to be busy. It just kinda happens.”
Nina is so good at multitasking and being an advocate for her community that she was awarded Best Township Employee in the State in 2015.
“I’ve lived in Portage my whole life. It’s a strong community, and it’s growing. Everyone here works hard. There is always room for growth in anything you do. My vision for Portage Township is to keep going on that track.”