With high inflation, rampant illegal immigration and heightened political tensions, the American Dream may seem like a thing of the past for many struggling to get by. But Honduran native JR Rivas is living proof that the United States is still the land of opportunity and success can still be achieved in the Yellowhammer State.
Rivas is a father of 10 children, founder of Personal Touch, Inc. and owner of Soggy Bottom Lodge in West Alabama. He recently sat down with 1819 News CEO Bryan Dawson on "1819 News: The Podcast" to tell how he came from a third-world country to become a successful businessman in Alabama.
"Coming from a third-world country but being raised in a good home with a lot of love, a lot of structure, gave me what I needed to grow," Rivas said.
He was drafted to serve in the Honduran military at age 14 during a time when the country was pushing back against encroaching Communist regimes. He served for five years and came to America shortly before his 20th birthday.
Though he had his green card, he couldn't pursue his dream of serving in law enforcement unless he was a full U.S. citizen. Luckily, a police chief in Bay St. Louis, Miss., used his contacts to get Rivas a job with the now-defunct Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS).
While serving under the supervision in New Orleans, La., Rivas helped take down an illegal fake document operation being run by a Honduran man. Ten months later, the INS agents helped him take his citizenship test.
"The first question was, 'Do you believe the United States Constitution?' 'Yes, sir.' 'Well, you passed the test,' Rivas said, recounting the day he became a U.S. citizen. "I said, 'Ask me more. I studied for two weeks. I know everything in that book, front to back.' He said, 'No, we're good. Thank you for everything that you've done for us as a great service.'"
Rivas soon moved to Maryland and joined the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department after graduating from the police academy. Nearly four years later, he moved back to Mississippi to work with the state narcotics bureau.
"We have a sister that we lost to drugs in Honduras," Rivas said on why he chose to work narcotics. "...I saw what it did to our family. Hurt us a lot, and I just wanted to fight drugs mostly for that reason. Still love my sister a lot."
In 1996, Rivas moved to Alabama, where he said his police salary didn't go as far in paying the bills. He decided to work nights so he could start a landscaping business during the day to supplement his income.
"Within a year, I realized that I was making one and a half times more than I was making with the police department," he said. "...After that, I just gave up law enforcement. Hated it. That's my passion. That's what I love to do. And I dedicated my life to what I call now Personal Touch Incorporated."
Rivas soon grew Personal Touch from a small, family-owned landscaping business to a large company with hundreds of employees servicing clients, big and small.
"God has been good," he said. "God has been a blessing to my family, and now God has been able to bless other families because of where they work supporting Personal Touch."
Rivas also owns the Soggy Bottom Lodge, where nature enthusiasts can enjoy hunting, fishing and other activities in Linden.
On top of all this, Rivas got back into law enforcement seven years ago and currently serves with the 17th Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force.
"The greatest thing about this, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, being in law enforcement is not about arresting people. It's about serving people, helping people," he said. "We may arrest somebody, and in the time that we're doing the interviews and so on, we still talk to them about God. 'Change your life because sooner or later, in the business that you're in, you're going to die.'
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