Who We Are: Friends manage Grand Junction’s Riverside Educational Center | PostIndependent.com

Who We Are: Friends manage Grand Junction’s Riverside Educational Center

Brittany Markert
Riverside Educational Center in Grand Junction provides extra help to students in an after-school setting. Children served often come from single-family and/or limited-income homes.
Submitted photo |


In 2013, more than 11,000 tutoring hours were donated to students at Riverside Educational Center. Due to increased need and expansion, more volunteers are needed to help children from kindergarten through fifth grade. Volunteers provide services for one hour a weeknight, Monday through Friday, from 4:15-5:30 p.m.

No experience is necessary; Riverside Educational Center will provide all materials and training.

“We provide a full lesson plan for each student,” Mary Gonzales, co-executive director, said. “It’s a very structured tutoring program.”

If interested in volunteering, call 970-589-5039 or email joy@rec4kids.com.

Editor’s note: Who We Are features men and women embodying Grand Valley’s unique spirit. Send nominations to crow@gjfreepress.com.

Mary Gonzales and Joy Hudak, both Grand Junction residents, have been friends for 13 years. As moms, they’ve seen first hand the struggles of children who need extra help at school and together they decided to help.

Gonzales, then a third-grade Wingate Elementary School in Grand Junction, began her quest in 2006. Her aim was to provide an after-school program for the Riverside neighborhood served by Wingate.

“Every year I noticed a handful of students, about three to five, that had Spanish-speaking parents with limited income or single-parent families that needed support,” Gonzales said.

That same year, she opened Riverside Educational Center (552 W. Main St., Grand Junction) as an after-school tutoring program for 12 students with the help of seven volunteers. Gonzales also asked Hudak to join the team as a grant writer in 2006. In 2009, they split the executive director position.

Fast forward eight years, Riverside Educational Center now provides after-school tutoring, summer programs, high school mentoring, and engagement in extra-curricular activities to 130 students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. Plus, it boasts 100 volunteers.

“The kids feel safe and it’s a great place to thrive,” Gonzales said.

According to Gonzales and Hudak, Riverside Educational Center is also in the process of expanding its high school program due to need, utilizing Grand Junction High School for its participating students. The center’s current facility is no longer able to sustain increased use. Last year, it additionally provided 20 extra-curricular scholarships for students to participate in sports, art or music classes and camps in the community.

Gonzales explained the impact on the kids as the biggest reason she keeps the program going.

“If we get just one kid through college that means we have succeeded, we have impacted someone’s life that way,” she said.

Programs for kindergarten through fifth grade run from 4-5:30 p.m. and sixth through 12th grade run from 3-5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

The cost for a student to attend Riverside Educational Center is $20 per year, a $2,200 value according to Gonzales. If families are unable to pay the $20 due to limited income, they are asked to volunteer their time.

“Most are happy to give back,” she noted.


When Gonzales and Hudak aren’t co-managing Riverside Educational Center, they enjoy all the Grand Valley has to offer.

Gonzales and her husband, Jerome, moved to Grand Junction 16 years ago for his job. It was initially planned to be a two-year stay.

“We got to a point where we had to stay or go,” Gonzales said. “My husband had to completely change his career to stay here that’s how much we love it here.”

According to Hudak, Gonzales is also an athlete. She recently raced in a local triathlon, completed and received first.

Gonzales’ two sons attend University of Colorado in Boulder; she said they volunteered with Riverside Educational Center while teenagers.

Hudak is originally from northern Illinois and discovered Grand Junction while vacationing many years ago. She fell in love with the area and decided to move here. She got a job, then earned a degree from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) in Grand Junction.

According to Hudak, she formerly worked in insurance and small business management.

“Then I had a kid and the world changed,” she said. “I became a stay-at-home mom.”

For more information about Riverside Educational Center, visit http://www.rec4kids.com.

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