Students Help with Hurricane Recovery in Puerto Rico

SUNY Oneonta student Seaver Lipshie helps with Puerto Rico hurricane recovery efforts.
SUNY Oneonta student Seaver Lipshie

SUNY Oneonta students are making a difference in Puerto Rico this summer,  assisting in recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the U.S. territory’s lush landscape and many homes.

A group of 11 students recently returned from a service-learning trip there with geography faculty members Justin Hartnett and Trevor Fuller. Three other students – Ivette Mendoza, Julia  Beattie and Jenna Ferraro – are among a select group of SUNY students chosen to participate in the “NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative” organized by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.

Last September, a Category Four storm known as Hurricane Maria hit the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. With widespread flooding, power outages and hundreds of homes destroyed by the tropical storm, Puerto Rico was stripped of its lush landscape, and the widely popular tourist territory became devoid of its attractions for weeks. Unfortunately, the recovery has been moving along slowly ever since.

Eight months after the disaster, there is still an extensive need for assistance in Puerto Rico. Blue tarps serve as shelters for many residents whose homes were destroyed.

Working with NECHAMA, a volunteer-driven nonprofit headquartered in Minnesota, 11 SUNY Oneonta students cleaned, swept, hammered, painted, worked on roofs and more last week to help improve the area. Skylar Claud, an Environmental Sustainability major from Leicester, NY, said the first house the group worked on was home to a woman who had lived there for 50 years.

“She’s spent the last 9 months living with other family because her house was destroyed by the hurricane,” Claud recalled.

“Being able to help families in need was the most rewarding part of the trip. They all showed their gratitude by either making meals for us or helping with the rebuilding process - they all made this trip an unforgettable experience.”

In April, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the NY Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative, an effort that includes sending a large number of SUNY and CUNY students to Puerto Rico, which started on June 17. As part of the initiative, students take part in a two-week program where they receive college credit for working to help the many citizens that are still impacted today and left homeless because of the catastrophic hurricane and its destruction.

Mendoza, a Criminal Justice major from the Bronx, left for Puerto Rico on July 1, while Ferraro and Beattie will set off on July 15.

“There are some areas that still have no electricity,” Mendoza told the college before her trip. “I am very honored to have the opportunity to be helping the people of Puerto Rico since it's my passion, and this program it is helping me fulfill that.”

Ferraro, a Childhood Education major from West Babylon, NY, said she has “always wanted to travel,” but wasn’t able to afford it. This volunteer program is giving her the opportunity to do so.

“Volunteering is nice because it helps restore hope,” Ferraro said. “Being aware that someone is willing to help another is extremely refreshing and the feeling afterwards is truly rewarding and humbling.”