Written By: Andrea Sanchez-Mendoza
The face of the organization:
Stephanie Rivera is a Latina entrepreneur, advocate, and a practicing litigator licensed in the state of New York. She focuses on supporting people who have experienced housing discrimination, and bringing cases against landlords and brokers to hold them responsible. We met over zoom to discuss her time at Represented Foundation where she created Bodega Legal, a space where people feel welcomed and supported when seeking legal counsel.
Her time with Represented Foundation:
Stephanie joined Represented’s second incubator cohort in the Spring of 2020, where she pivoted and expanded her original idea of developing a community land trust, and promoting affordable housing to creating and growing her organization Bodega Legal. When starting out as a new entrepreneur Stephanie remembers felt like a deer in headlights. “There were so many business functions that were completely out of my realm of understanding and comprehension. [I was thinking] what do I do for funding? What do I do for business planning?”
Stephanie says that V.E.R. sessions “were great at getting me focused and supporting my ideas. It was never this is ridiculous or you need to do XYZ because this isn’t working, it felt good to just bounce ideas [around] and receive support on how this gets to look like. I got to be the big thinker, and V.E.R. got to be my detailed oriented planner.”
The Bodega Legal break down:
The idea for Bodega Legal began with a conversation with a friend. Stepahnie wished that people could go to a corner bodega and receive legal services, have somebody look over their lease, and explain what housing court looks like. She wanted to create a space “where people will not feel burdened by [asking] these big questions, that can actually be easily understood if broken down properly, by being given the right tools to combat these issues.” So the idea of creating a bodega for lawyers came to life in 2020. Bodega Legal focuses on being able to break down complex legal issues and city ordinances to community members, while providing the tools to help combat these issues they might be facing. About her community, and how she’s helping Stephanie says “..that they actually are ridiculously smart and experienced people, that if [they] had the right tools, [they] can do this on [their] own.”
Behind the name:
Stephanie wanted to create a space where everybody is welcomed just like bodega's in New York, “our neighborhood corner store is a place where we feel welcomed. It's a place where although we don't own it, or we don't work there, it's ours, compared to other spaces that offer legal services that can feel very intimidating, that can make you feel like an outsider, like you don't know what you're doing, and it never feels like I'm entitled to this space, which is just like how the legal system works is setup to create these power dynamics. And unfortunately, we're working within that system.”
Hispanic Heritage Month: Let’s Celebrate!
When I asked Stephanie to describe what Hispanic Heritage Month means to her, there was such pride in her voice. As she described, “Being in New York, you're always around so many different types of people. And it's always so so natural to be like, we are such a diverse people in our language, in our culture, in our food and in our personality. I just love that there's still a way for us to celebrate that and acknowledge that across the board. And recognizing also that there is really deep seated commonality among us, that just because we're from different parts of the world, and had different experiences, that there is this deep celebration and love for who we are as a people too.”
Interested in learning more about Stepahanie's legacy? Follow us on Instagram to learn about Stepahanie's second part of the "Letters in Legacy" blog series!
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Represented Foundation's mission is to close the diversity gap in social impact leadership.