By Jessica Lopez
A community organizer out of UC Riverside, Aram Ayra was inspired to run for city council by what he called a disconnect between the university and its surrounding residents.
Drawing from his experiences as a former student and staff member, Ayra argued that the city has underutilized UC Riverside as an engine for social, and economic mobility and lacks college graduate retention.
“We don’t have an advocate that speaks to student issues, to postgraduate issues,” Ayra said. “We don’t have someone that’s securing the kind of resources and support systems necessary to actually retain college graduates in the area.”
He also emphasized his urgency for running to address the current health and economic crises amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ayra said he has seen its heavy impacts firsthand in the Riverside Mutual Aid Network.
The network, co-founded by Ayra and fellow college graduate John Stefan, stemmed from wanting to help college students who have been struggling to find essential resources since the abrupt closure of the UC Riverside campus. The network eventually expanded to also help vulnerable communities in the area around UC Riverside.
“Since we’ve launched, we’ve raised nearly $15,000,” Ayra said. “Ninety-nine percent of our funding comes from direct community members donating small amounts of money at a time.”
Through the support of a grassroots movement, Ayra is now focused on better serving residents, tackling issues most important to those in the area. He plans to make vaccines more accessible.
“I’m talking about reducing the amount of lines that we have by opening more locations, doing mobile vaccination clinics and reaching out to communities that traditionally don’t have access or transportation,” he said.
Riverside’s unsheltered population, one of its most vulnerable communities, is also at the forefront of Ayra’s reform plans. He has regularly worked with Riverside’s Homeless Care Network to address many issues collaboratively.
“There’s a lot more room for getting bigger initiatives off the ground,” Ayra said. “Bringing all of these stakeholders together from these various organizations and providing leadership and backing as well to ensure that we’re addressing homelessness as a whole united community.”
Ayra is advocating for the protection of essential programs that provide critical resources to vulnerable communities and the stabilization of the city’s economy.
A mail-in election will be held June 8.