On August 17th of this year, we will be closing an unforgettable journey we started 18 months ago. In February of 2018, NECHAMA’s Operations Director, Dorothy Maples and I boarded a flight to San Juan Puerto Rico. For the first time in the organization’s history, we were outside the continental United States on our way to assess the level of assistance needed to respond to the damage left behind by two of the largest hurricanes to hit Puerto Rico in 89 years.
The island had just been impacted by back to back hurricanes, Irma and Maria. We were facing a response and recovery effort that would take years to address, the need was staggering and undeniable. Thanks to funding from long-time supporters including the Jewish Federation of North America, B’nai B’rith, and the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago; we were able to quickly get our staff and volunteers on the ground and begin the difficult work that was ahead of us.
From the moment we arrived, we have been inspired by the people of Puerto Rico. Their dedication, pride and willingness to welcome us into their homes and community has been second to none. We have been honored and humbled by our time working on the island and the relationships we have built within the community.
Since the early months living in our donated Loiza house, to our time spent in Bayamon and Guaynabo, we have had the privilege of a dedicated community of Program Staff and volunteers who came to Puerto Rico with the intent and hope of giving back without the expectation of anything in return, to truly be of service, to experience Tikkun Olam. This was only possible through supporters like Airbnb who donated our volunteer and staff housing for the majority of the program, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation for their financial support, and the Office of the Governor of New York for their partnership along with the State of New York University and the City of New York University systems.
Over our 18 months on the island, with the help of over 1,200 volunteers, NECHAMA completed repairs on 119 homes ensuring those families have shelter from future storms that will affect the island. We also worked closely with local nonprofit partners this summer including SIEMBRA TRES VIDAS to address food insecurity on the island, CARAS CON CAUSA to help rebuild mangrove forests that help minimize erosion and filter water after storms, and with the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service to reopen trails in the El Yunque National Forest.
This was only possible through the generosity of our staff, donors, volunteers, and partners.
As we end our programming, we look forward to staying in contact with our partners in Puerto Rico as recovery on the island continues, and we will maintain our pursuit of opportunities to return. In the meantime, we hope that those of you who have supported this program will continue to support our work wherever it takes us.