After completing a successful relief drive to help those affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, eighth grade students at Shelton Intermediate School learned a lesson about what can be accomplished when people work together to achieve a common goal.
When SIS science teacher/Spanish club adviser Ernestina Genova learned that one of Puerto Rico’s mayors would be visiting the school in time to see what her students had collected to help those affected by Hurricane Maria, she was excited, to say the least.
Genova said the visit to Shelton by Pedro Garcia, mayor of Hormigueros for the past 13 years, arose from a conversation she had with his daughter, an electrical engineer who lives in Shelton.
“Tania and I were out eating at a Mexican restaurant when the conversation of Puerto Rico came up,” said Genova. “She told me of an organization she had created with a few other people called CTBPT United for Puerto Rico. I told her about the relief drive we were doing at school, and then she told me that her father was planning to visit.”
Garcia’s daughter, Tania Shannon-Garcia, said that after Hurricane Maria destroyed a large part of the island, she, like many others, was unable to get in contact with her father for nearly 12 days and contemplated catching a spontaneous flight to Puerto Rico in hope of finding him.
“We had no idea if he was OK or not,” said Shannon-Garcia.
After regaining contact with her father, Shannon-Garcia learned of the harsh conditions on the island and wanted to help. She and several of her colleagues created CTBPT United for Puerto Rico in order to provide some relief. To date, the organization has raised nearly $49,000 to aid those affected by the hurricane, with 100% of the proceeds going directly to the Mayors Association and Federation to aid all 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico.
Mayor Garcia embraced at SIS
Upon his arrival at SIS, Mayor Garcia met with the students of the Spanish club, El Coqui, to participate in a Q&A session. According to Genova, students prepared for the mayor’s arrival by selecting one question they would like to ask him.
Students asked Garcia what they could do to assist with the island’s efforts to recover from the damage caused by the hurricane, as well as questions about how he managed to maintain his composure during the tragedy.
Garcia said despite all the physical damage done to the island, his job hasn’t changed much, and some positives came from the tragedy.
“Before Maria, Puerto Rico was divided by politics,” said Garcia. “Now we are united and working together to be stronger than ever.”
Shannon-Garcia told the students that her father, before arriving in Shelton, had been working hard to help his community of nearly 20,000 people rebuild.
“I wanted to have him here for Thanksgiving, but I knew that wasn’t possible. I know he’s been working 16- to 20-hour days and not sleeping, so I just wanted him here, but I know the people in Puerto Rico need him. I wanted to at least send him back with a ‘power-up’ and more energy,” said Shannon-Garcia.
Garcia said upon assessing the damage caused by the storm, he made it his No. 1 priority to get running water to the people of Hormigueros. In order to deliver water to the people, Garcia said, he ordered that the community’s six backup generators be used to pump water into people’s homes.
“If they have water, they can drink and bathe,” said Garcia who explained that more than 38 of the island’s municipalities have no light or hot water at this time.
Garcia said he was able to leave to come to see his daughter because of how organized he left everything back in Hormigueros.
Aside from having the chance to help another community in need, Superintendent of Shelton Schools Dr. Chris Clouet emphasized that the experience is an opportunity for students to learn that this can happen to anyone.
“This is not something that is unique to Puerto Rico, this is something that could happen here or anywhere else,” said Genova. “As teachers, our goal is to help our students become productive members of society and to have a global perspective on how to be better people, and I think having Mayor Garcia here helps them put a face to what’s going on in Puerto Rico and to be empathetic.”
Garcia said that despite the majority of the island’s people being overcome with sadness due to the destruction caused by the storm, they are still doing their best to be in the holiday spirit. Garcia left for Puerto Rico Tuesday morning at 6 a.m.
To donate to CTBPT United for Puerto Rico, visit https://www.youcaring.com/ctbptunitedforpr-968871.