Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.
The tables and counters at the Children’s Service Guild’s office are piled high with craft supplies.
Shelves of ribbons, ornaments and sequins nearly reach the ceilings. At a workstation at the back of the room, unseasonably festive Christmas wreaths finish drying from a recent hot glue-gunning.
“We have more craft supplies than Michael’s!” Elise Rigatuso says. “But I’m not one for crafting.”
As executive board member and historian of the guild, she too invests hundreds, if not thousands of hours throughout the year creating.
Rather than designing the Christmas bells and teddy bears that will be sold at the annual Christmas fundraiser, she compiles volumes of photos and stories that detail the many ways the volunteer-led nonprofit has helped children touched by the family court or juvenile justice systems in Clark County each year.
As Rigatuso thumbs through an album, she pauses at pictures of Easter and Christmas parties, foster children reuniting with siblings at Camp to Belong and teenage boys building trails at the Spring Mountain Youth Camp.
“A lot of these kids just don’t get a fair shake at life,” Rigatuso says. “We step in where the county hasn’t budgeted to give these kids safety and love and whatever they may need.”
While walking through the Child Haven campus where the guild’s office is located, she pauses to wave to children who are making their way to the playground.
“A lot of kids are brought here in the middle of the night,” Rigatuso says. “They’re scared. We give them pajamas and a bed in one of the cottages and safe place to live and play until another relative can pick them up or a parent is able to pick them up again.”
In addition to supporting Child Haven, the Guild provides children in foster care with clothing and food. For holidays, they provide funds for an Easter egg hunt and baskets of Thanksgiving dinner for hundreds of families. And they donate work boots to the boys at the Youth Camp.
Rigatuso has been with the Guild since 2011. In two weeks, the Guild will celebrate its 50th anniversary. And for every event, meeting and family meet-up, Rigatuso is there to take pictures.
“When I worked for a paycheck, I worked real hard,” Rigatuso says. “Now I don’t get a paycheck and I work even harder.”
Why did you get involved with the Children’s Service Guild?
I had worked at the same place for 27 years and it closed. My husband said, “Why don’t you take some time off?” I’d worked since I was 16 and thought, “This is pretty cool.” So a couple months go by and I got antsy. In November, I went to the annual Holiday Craft Boutique and Raffle. Before I went, I prayed and said I was at a crossroads, where am I going? I walked in there and I knew. I knew this was my calling, to work with children and do what we do because it’s so important.
Has your family experienced foster care?
My father’s father had five children. And he died young, at 32. Their mother worked cleaning houses, doing whatever she could do to support five kids. Child Protective Services came in and took them all away and put them all in foster (homes). They were separated for three-four years. From stories my aunt has told me, that’s how I know about foster care. It’s a lot better now.
How can people in the Las Vegas community better support children?
Join Children’s Service Guild, donate to Children’s Service Guild. There are so many ways to be involved. People can volunteer at Child Haven. Staff are paid by county, but lots of people volunteer. Or become a foster parent. If people would stop and think and realize what these kids are going through, whether in the juvenile justice system or family court system, they’d see these kids need help. They just need help. Everyone needs to help. We’re not here to just wallow through life. We’re here for each other. To help each other.
The guild is coming up on its 50th anniversary in a couple of weeks. Do you have a memorable moment from your work with the Guild?
My mom used to always cut out Christmas cookies and we kids would decorate them. With the guild, I joined in November. So for the first Christmas party, I thought, “What’s a Christmas party without cookies?” We had the kids cut out cookies and decorate them. And it was so fun. Their faces were covered with frosting, sprinkles are flying. One kid says to me, “I’ve never done this before. Wow, this is so cool.” They write thank-you notes and say “thank you so much because this is the best thing ever.” They never got to do things like that, and it’s just a normal kid thing.
How did you get into photography?
I started when I was 18. I was in Michigan and didn’t have any experience, but one man hired me and trained me and had me photograph kids. Then I went to school for it when I got to Las Vegas and had a mobile studio where I did portraits of pets and their people. It was a fun job.
Contact Janna Karel at email@example.com. Follow @jannainprogress on Twitter.
Getting to know Elise Rigatuso
What do you do in your free time?
Gardening, reading the Bible and photography.
Do you have any pets?
I have six grandchildren. Does that count? They’re the best.
Where do you take guests when they come to visit?
The Strip, downtown, Red Rock, Valley of Fire, Lake Mead, we take them everywhere.
Favorite vacation spot?
Navajo Lake in Utah. I love traveling.