While perhaps lesser known than Ronald, the Hamburglar or Mayor McCheese— Soraya Rivera-Moya is, nonetheless, every bit as much a part of the McDonald’s fabric as those fabled characters!
Soraya is the Executive Director of the Ronald McDonald House Charity of South Florida; and she’s worked with the organization since her college days—seamlessly ascending the corporate ladder.
But let’s rewind, so as to better understand what makes Soraya the Latinarrific woman she is today.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1971—Soraya was the only daughter in a brood that included three brothers. Her mother was a diligent, stay-home mom, while dad owned several car dealerships.
Her youth was spent in idyllic, rural bliss.
“We lived in a farm house, with animals and fields and lots of neighbors. I grew up with a great sense of community. My grandmother Felicita (fondly called Fele) was my mentor and role model. She was a hard-working matriarch. I used to regale in her endless yarns—working the fields, raising four children (she was widowed at the age of fifty-eight).
“I was amazed at how Fele balanced motherhood with putting food on the table, even selling lottery tickets throughout San Juan.”
We lived in a farm house, with animals and fields and lots of neighbors. I grew up with a great sense of community. My grandmother Felicita (fondly called Fele) was my mentor and role model. She was a hard-working matriarch
Soraya’s father, however, was a rock, and as the family’s sole provider, he encouraged his children to pursue higher education (which he was more than happy to pay for).
“When it was my turn for college, my father helped to guide me in the selection process. He wanted me to study in the States so that I could receive the best education possible. I eventually settled on Northeastern University in Boston.”
Northeastern was ultimately selected because the University offered a five-year curriculum—four years of undergrad work and then one more year in an internship program—real world stuff.
“I wanted to study business, but after my first semester I switched to Journalism—I’ve always had a great passion for communication.”
Sadly, the fates intruded. While in her second year of studies—her father passed away unexpectedly.
Soraya wasn’t torn by her next decision.
“It was family first, plain and simple. I felt it my duty to return to Puerto Rico and be with my mother.”
Return she did, but never abandoning her scholastic aspirations. Soraya moved back home with her mom and enrolled at the University of Sacred Heart—eventually earning her Master’s Degree in Public Relations and Communications.
A hard worker throughout her college days, Soraya first found temp work through an agency and was employed by TGI Friday corporate (a job she held throughout her undergrad studies). While enrolled in her Master’s Program, Soraya found a riper position at an Ad Agency, in an administrative capacity, working directly for the owners.
Post graduation found Soraya still employed at the agency and that’s when Mc-Luck changed her life big-time!
“The agency scored the valuable McDonald’s account and they needed to staff a dedicated team to handle it. I landed the role of Junior Account Executive, focusing on public relations.”
For the next two-years Soraya was hands on, taking on as many responsibilities as she could—press releases, event coordination, advertising and media—the whole shebang.
And when the Account Executive left, Soraya was asked to fill the position (ah, sweet fate)…
Four years deep into the McDonald’s account (which included the creation of a chapter of the Ronald McDonald House), Soraya’s ascension was about to kick-in once more.
With the Chapter ready to open, Angel Rodriguez (the President of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Miami) arrived on the island nation to provide his expertise. Soraya was asked to be his personal coordinator and a friendship soon developed.
“We became fast friends,” Soraya recalls with pride. “His sense of humor and professionalism were the cornerstones of his personality.
“I remember, right before he was to return to the States, I asked, rather flippantly, if he had an opening in Miami. He responded, quite matter-of-factly, that he would let me know. I thought nothing more of it.”
Nine months later Soraya received a call…
“I took a call from Angel. He explained that they had an open position at their agency, and that I ought to interview.”
Somewhat shocked, but undaunted, Soraya flew to Miami on a weekend (not wishing to miss a single day of work). Soraya was back at her desk in Puerto Rico on Monday and the following day she was offered the job.
While Soraya did encounter a “should I stay or should I go” moment, the thrill of the challenge—the thought of moving to a major U.S. city, was too much to pass up and so she took the plunge, moving to Miami in 1998.
Soraya quickly became the public relations maven for the charity in Miami, and it was two years into her move that she met the love of her life, New Jersey born Cuban Miguel Moya (they were married shortly thereafter and have two teenage daughters—Diana and Soraya Nicole).
“Thanks to Miguel, I had the opportunity to learn about Miami and state of Florida. Without him and the support of his family, I would not have my career! My in-laws took care of our daughters while they were babies and beyond. They filled the familial vacuum left from my leaving Puerto Rico.”
After four-years on the job, yet another opportunity landed on Soraya’s lap. McDonald’s decided to open a chapter in Fort Lauderdale, not surprising, the board turned to Soraya, offering her the plum job of Executive Director.
“It took us two years to get the House open and was I running the staff, fund-raising, event coordinating, marketing—you name it, I was doing it!”
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better for Soraya, the Executive Director of the Miami Chapter (her old friend Angel) retired. The board quickly decided that both chapters ought to be consolidated, and, well, you don’t have to guess who was offered the gig…
As Executive Director, Soraya is responsible for overseeing all operations including fundraising, grant-giving, marketing, public relations, community relations, financial, personal and administrative activities.
There is a sense of irony in the way things turned out for Soraya. While her father’s death prompted her to drop-out of her “dream” college. It, nonetheless, set in motion the chain of events that have defined her career. You can’t help but feel that her pops is quite proud of his princesa!