It has been slightly over a week since I returned. This time, I must say, that although as shocking as it was the first time, it was a bit easier. The mind has a way of adapting to realities that at one time were untenable. Thanks to all of you, I was also able to bring real help to the Island. This time, we were traveling to Puerto Rico to celebrate my youngest daughter’s first anniversary and my birthday, so this was a special time. This time last year, my daughter and her husband celebrated a glorious dream wedding that was just how she had pictured it since she was a little girl. An old fashioned wedding in Old San Juan….a ceremony at dusk at the Rogativa, a procession led by pleneros up Calle Las Monjas to a magnificent reception at the Hotel El Convento. What a difference one year makes !
The conditions on the Island have minimally improved in the past two months post my last visit and the social inequities are more visible than ever. Nature is good as so much of the vegetation although still crooked and broken down is giving growth to new greenery so that visual impact is not so traumatic. But electric lines are still down, debris is still piled up, there are minimal street lights, and very few police officers are in sight. Still, one has to believe in this beautiful Island whose people are among the kindest, most resilient and truly thankful for all of the help that is offered to them.
In total, together, we have raised close to $ 225,000. Here is how this money was used
One hundred fifteen thousand ($115,000) dollars was provided in $1,000 stipends to 115 community health center staff members in Puerto Rico who lost all of their belongings. I was blessed to have been able to visit seven of the health centers that we gave this money to. There were employees who were unaware of this opportunity and whose Executive Director submitted their names. When called to meet with us, they thought that they were losing their jobs, only to realize that strangers from New York had brought a bit of hope to help them restart their lives. The looks and tears of appreciation were beyond belief. We heard from one individual, whose eyes spoke volumes of the despair
that she feels, who after going through the storm in 4 feet of water in her home, she was apologetic for getting to work at 2PM the day after the storm and not being in uniform. She now stays in a one bedroom home with nine other relatives.
Fifteen thousand two hundred fifty ($15,250 ) dollars was provided to support a local Puerto Rico initiative, Off the Grid Relief, whose goal is to identify rural communities who have no electricity and provide them with a low cost solar alternative. Off the Grid Relief identified a community, Altos de Arena in Utuado, as their first project. Here, 11 out of 13 homes in the community were powered up with the installation of these kits. (The other two houses were vacant.) We witnessed the installation of the 8th and 9th kits. What an amazing transformation happens when people are offered light, something that they had not seen for the past four months.
While visiting there, we celebrated in the joy of the hope that was given to those very special people. They cooked by wood fire the best arroz con gandules and pernil that I have tasted in a long time.
They were grateful but we learned that they also had no water. Six hundred (600) feet of piping that connected the water from the mountains to their homes had been blown away by Hurricane Maria. We were able to purchase the materials for them for a total cost of $3,800.
Today as a community they were able to reconnect their water supply and now they enjoy both water and light. How humbling to see grown men cry in gratitude!
Today as a community they were able to reconnect their water supply and now they enjoy both water and light. How humbling to see grown men cry in gratitude! Total cost to provide light and water to this community was less than $ 24,000 but more than that, they received the greater gift of humanity and hope. Thank you !
Ten thousand ($10,000 ) dollars is slated for the installation of a solar generator at a local health center in the town of Las Marias. Seventy health center sites are running their large diesel operated generators 24/7 for the sake of safeguarding their vaccines and medications. The Puerto Rico community health centers have been selected as the recipients of the Charitable Foundation of the Energy Bar Association fundraising initiative. All funds received, which are expected to be close to $200,000, will go towards funding these solar generators throughout the Island. Thanks to that very special individual who believed enough to give this one time fantastic donation.
Eight thousand ($8,000 ) dollars has been raised to support our partner Hispanic Federation, who in turn, allowed us to send four 40-foot containers of donations to Puerto Rico, along with 35,000 pounds of goods on a cargo plane.
Two thousand dollars ($2,000) has paid for mosquito netting, which is non-existent in Puerto Rico. As an example, as I was leaving the hotel with over 120 nets, the hotel staff learned of what we had, and in a matter of 10 minutes, 50 nets were given out. People are suffering.
In addition to continuing to support solar alternatives in rural communities, we are on a mission to install the smaller solar generators in every health center.
To date we have funds for 22 generators. We need 48 more at a cost of $10,000 each. We are also planning on sending two teams of outreach workers to work in rural communities alongside our health center brothers and sisters to assist in going into homes and assessing individuals and families. As health centers have become busy with patients again, a great need continues to exist in having communities be assessed to assure that all who need help are offered it.
Urban Health Plan has also become the medical home to 125 Puerto Rico evacuees, and more are coming to us every day. We are committed to assuring that each one of these individuals’ needs are identified and properly addressed. One designated social worker has been assigned to this task.
So as you can see, the need for continued support continues. Our government has fallen short on so many fronts but when it comes to treating people with kindness and fairness, they have failed drastically in Puerto Rico. I ask that you continue to support our efforts. Puerto Rico is rising but very slowly and with minimal government support. It is up to every day citizens like you and me to do our part and to stand up together and be counted towards having this wonderful island regain its footing. If it is to be, it is up to each and every one of us, please continue to support our efforts.
Your donations are still important, give today, give a little, give what you can, it is making a difference !!
Thank you for your support
President and CEO
Urban Health Plan