‘The work never stops.’ NYC volunteers help with disaster relief in Puerto Rico
A nonprofit organization in Puerto Rico that was created by Nuyoricans after hurricanes ripped through the island is working to get abandoned schools up and running as community centers.
The group Helping Hands for Puerto Rico has spent hours since late 2019 rebuilding and restoring the building after hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the island in September 2017. Hundreds of other schools closed during this time due to a long economic slump.
The Biden administration released roughly $8 billion in disaster relief funding and ended restrictions that limited access to the money last month.
The funding allows the nonprofit group to continue its main mission of rehabilitating schools and turning them into community resiliency centers.
A computer lab still in the works at the school in Aguas Buenas will provide educational, arts and entrepreneurship programs. Old classrooms will be transformed into emergency shelters.
Raymond Collazo is from New York City, and serves as the executive director of Helping Hands for Puerto Rico. He says the goal is to make sure the buildings they work on are renewable energy focused and help communities become self-sufficient when the next hurricane or earthquake hits, so the devastation isn't so crippling.
"In case of another disaster, we're not relying on the electrical grid, we're not relying on the aqueduct system, that means being able to implement solar panels, rainwater catchment systems," Collazo says.
With plenty of work still to be done, nearly 200 volunteers, many of them from across New York City, traveled to the west side of Puerto Rico to be a helping hand during the pandemic.
“I think the work never stops, we don’t have to wait for a natural disaster to help out and unite, you can do this every day, people need help every day,” says Joel Camilo, a volunteer manager from the Bronx.
More information on Helping Hands for Puerto Rico can be found on the group's website.