York Latina leader follows in mother's footsteps with advocacy

Delma Rivera, the Diversity Education Specialist at Central York School District, poses with a "Pennies for Puerto Rico" campaign poster at her office at Central York Middle School Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. She is planning a several-week trip to Puerto Rico where she has family and property. She will be coordinating shipping efforts of relief items from the U.S. as well as circulating the donated funds. The $500 raised thru the school’s Aevidum Club campaign will be given to La Escaela de Calvache, the school where her mother taught. Bill Kalina photo

To receive the same award her mother did more than 10 years ago means a lot to Delma Rivera-Lytle.

It "makes it that much more special," she said.

The Dorrie Leader Advocacy Award was created by YWCA York in 1995 to honor women advocates for their work on social issues and for standing for its mission of peace, justice and dignity for all people, according to a news release.

Rivera-Lytle's mother, Delma Rivera, exemplified this distinction throughout a career fighting bias and discrimination and was honored in 2007.

She died in September 2014 at age 85.

“It seems fitting that her daughter will be receiving her award at the Lessons From My Mother Luncheon,” YWCA York CEO Jean Treuthart said.

“One purpose of this event is to talk about how our mothers impacted our lives, and in Delma’s case, that impact was positive and significant," she added.

Rivera-Lytle's family moved to York City from Puerto Rico in 1962 and started Centro Hispano José Fernández, the Spanish American center that helps area Latinos connect with the community and find resources. 

"For me, it's been part of my legacy," Rivera-Lytle said.

Community work had always been a part of what she did, she said, and she has wanted to help people since she was young. By volunteering at the center, she grew up working in York City — her home.

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“I never dreamed years later I would be nominated," she said.

Rivera-Lytle remembers meeting Dorrie Leader when her mother received her award.

Leader, president of YWCA York in the 1950s and later a member of the national organization's board, attended the March on Washington with her two oldest daughters in 1963 and was inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

She fought for equality both nationally and in York, helping lay the groundwork for the the YWCA's "prioritization of the elimination of racism as national mission work," the release states.

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Each recipient of the award receives a framed copy of the poem "Watcher of the Skies" — signifying Leader's efforts in looking out for everyone.

The poem was so special to Rivera-Lytle's mother that her daughter read it in her eulogy, she said.

Advocating for diversity: Rivera-Lytle's own contributions to equality are in the celebration and encouragement of diversity throughout the community.

She is the diversity education specialist at Central York Middle School and coordinates the annual districtwide diversity celebration.

And she has followed in her mother's footsteps with her service to Latinos in York County through Gov. Tom Wolf's Commission on Latino Affairs, which she joined in 2015.

Rivera-Lytle personally delivered $10,000 in aid to victims of the devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico last year.

Three thousand pictures later — along with interviews of firsthand experiences, trips to unknown towns in the mountains and a new title as honorary member of a local fishermen's association — she said the experience was life-changing. 

"One of the most amazing takeaways for me was the resiliency of the Puerto Rican people," she said.

More:York County woman delivering more than $10K in aid to Puerto Rico

Rivera-Lytle has also been an advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention through her school's Aevidum Club, which focuses on those issues and works to promote a positive atmosphere.

"I think there is a huge stigma to mental health, and we're slowly starting to get rid of it," she said, adding that in the stressful school environment, it's important for her to talk to students and let them know resources are available.

Rivera-Lytle said she is "humbled and honored" to receive the award, and if it helps make advocacy work more visible, she counts that as a victory.

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The Lessons From My Mother Luncheon will be held at noon Tuesday, May 22, at the Country Club of York, with tickets available at ywcayork.org.