Tell readers a bit about yourself and how you ended up in Flagler County.
My name is Erica Rivera. I am Hispanic, first generation born and raised in the states, specifically Western Massachusetts. My parents, along with myself and younger brother, moved to Jacksonville, Florida in December 2000 and then to Palm Coast in May 2003 just in time for me to start my senior year at Flagler Palm Coast High School. My parents have since moved on to Clermont, Florida but my brother and I are still residents of Flagler County. I’m not married and don’t have children but I’m a proud aunt of an 8-year-old niece and almost 2-year-old nephew. I also have two Godchildren.
You have a unique profession. How did you get into it and who is your ideal client?
I definitely do have a unique profession, but I feel it is one that is needed in our community. After being laid off in April 2009 from The Ocean Course at Hammock Beach Resort as a Golf Shop Attendant I decided I wanted to be in a profession that aligned with my passion to bring awareness to comprehensive sexual health education. As someone who is a survivor of childhood abuse, sexual assault, homelessness, rape and domestic violence this was just one aspect of my life experiences I wanted to shed light on.
After pursuing a career in modeling, acting and dancing; I started working as a Territory Sales Manager for a leading personal wellness brand and during that time studied Sexual Health Education under some of the most notable names in the industry like Lifetime TV’s Rachel DeAlto from “Married at First Sight”; Practicing Psychiatrist & Author Madeleine M. Castellanos, M.D. and award-winning Researcher, Dr. Debby Herbenick. Currently, as a Sexual Health Educator, I deliver scientific-based sexual and intimacy information to workplace, higher education, youth and private audiences.
My ideal clients are event or conference planners needing a motivational speaker or educator on topics relating to sexual assault prevention & recovery, healthy intimacy and adolescent safety OR individuals, couples, teens and/or LGBTQ+ audiences needing a safe space locally to have a 1-on-1 to discuss their sexual concerns, feelings and thoughts.
Your work has branched off into a number of community-oriented activities including helping with Flagler Pride and monthly social events. How have you seen the community’s response shift over the past few years?
Since entering this industry in 2011, it hasn’t been an easy journey. As a young entrepreneur (in an older demographic) wanting to promote access to comprehensive sexual health education not only as a necessity in maintaining healthy relationships but in teen safety and as the most important part of sexual assault prevention; I have to tell you, I had to overcome a lot of adversities over the last 11+ years. I’ve described Flagler County as functioning with a conservative mindset and an “old-school” approach to sexual health like pushing abstinence or not encouraging the DE stigmatization of discussions around intimacy among married couples. Despite this, I’ve continued to be very vocal about my mission because discomfort is a catalyst for growth! I think it’s worked out because now over a decade later, and many encounters with doubters which only fueled me to keep pressing on, I have found our community is opening up more and more to the idea of at least having those uncomfortable conversations with me. I’ve been given platforms to speak on, including but not limited to, PWFC’s Business for Breakfast, several Rotary Club presentations, Volusia’s County’s Reproductive Rights Summit, our local Chamber, as well as in collaboration with other businesses/nonprofits in the area like faith-based organizations and local churches, Flagler Pride, Project WARM, Flagler OARS, Central Floridians for Social Equality, etc. I’ve also grown outside of Flagler speaking in metropolitan areas like Jacksonville and Orlando, and making appearances on national television, radio and print.
Just as a sidenote – in October 2021, I decided to start and lead an LGBTQ+ Night in Flagler County in order to reach the LGBTQ+ adults in our community. After all they too go through the challenges of meeting likeminded individuals, having the “talk” with their children and experiencing trauma just like anyone else. This monthly adult social took off and Flagler Pride having already been hosting a youth friendly social and annual event, we decided rather than work against each other we could collaborate on certain projects to extend our reach. As of October 2022, the founder and the volunteers we had on board voted me in as President and I’ve been working on leading their initiatives to the best of my ability.
April 26 you have a big event coming up. How and why did you start this event here locally?
Yes, April 26th is extremely dear to my heart. That is the day of our 2nd Annual Denim Day Fundraising Campaign for my nonprofit, the National CARE Foundation in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. CARE stands for Center for Advocacy, Resources and Equity. Celebrated every year on the last Wednesday of April, Denim Day started as a campaign against sexual assault apologists. In the summer of 1998 in Italy, an 18-year-old girl was raped by her 45-year-old driving instructor. One year later, the perpetrator was released after the court overturned his sentence. He appealed that the girl had had ‘consensual’ sex with him because she was wearing tight jeans that could have only been taken off with her help. The next day, Italian women showed up in jeans to their workplaces as a way to protest the absurdity of the overturned sentence.
Last year, I decided to bring this campaign to Flagler County because we have survivors going through similar situations like this one right in our backyard. I was one of them! It’s crucial to make sure that we pledge to believe survivors and are upstanders in our own community. Last year the proceeds benefited Peace Over Violence, the 501c3 who originated the campaign but this year with the inception of the National CARE Foundation, we get to use the proceeds to support LOCAL survivors. Anyone who wants to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected by directly supporting rape prevention education and healing services for survivors of sexual harassment, assault, abuse and rape should be in attendance.
On the fun side, you are also a belly dancer and have trained with a top-notch professional in St. Augustine. Why do you love being involved with this type of dancing and how has it enhanced your life?
I’m so glad you asked! When I’m not wearing the hats I’ve mentioned thus far, I go by “Sadira” – a belly dance performer and instructor in Flagler County. Belly dancing since 2008, I am proficient in both Oriental and Fusion styles. I credit Lacey Sanchez (Orlando, FL) as one of my most influential modern fusion mentors and my involvement with Blue Lotus World Dance Company (St. Augustine, FL) as a founding member, for my FCBD® Style beginnings. I perform at special events (birthdays, weddings, Corporate) and offer classes where students can join me on a journey of self-love and acceptance. Every year, my students have the optional opportunity to showcase a demonstration for their friends and family at Flagler Turtle Patrol’s Annual Turtle Fest in Flagler Beach.
If you recall earlier in the interview, I did pursue a career in modeling, acting and dancing. During my time employed at The Ocean Course, I was still in my healing process after experiencing homelessness and rape. Rather than turn to the peer pressures of drugs and alcohol to cope, I danced. One of the golf members introduced me to his wife who at the time was teaching belly dance for Flagler County Adult Education. Originally I had always wanted to pursue ballet but with no adult classes available in the area, I decided to try belly dance; I figured “Who knows? Maybe one day I could be the next Shakira…” After taking my first class, I was hooked. Belly dancing became that outlet I needed to boost my self-esteem, to learn how to love myself and my body even after trauma, it even gave me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and perform on stage which later would prove useful as a professional speaker. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without this ancient dance form in my life. Not only is it good for your mind but it is extremely beneficial for women’s health! It’s so fitting to where life has taken me in my career!