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  • 2018-09-05
  • John Follaco

Brockport Stands with Puerto Rico

The College teams with New York State, SUNY, and others to provide disaster relief to the struggling territory.

Nearly a year after Hurricanes Maria and Irma devastated the island of Puerto Rico, thousands of people remain in need. This summer, under the direction of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York State — powered by hundreds of student volunteers from the SUNY and CUNY systems — took action.

The College at Brockport played a key role in the initiative, leading two delegations of students to the island in early July. Twenty-one undergraduate students, including 14 from Brockport, were led by three Brockport staff members.

Their mission? Team with partners from UNICEF, All Hands and Hearts (a non-profit devoted to helping with disaster relief), and skilled trade workers to help repair as many damaged homes as possible. The groups led by Brockport helped repair 20 homes during their stay.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to come down to countries that need help, that need aid, that need people to help them out,” said Justus Nowak ’18, an exercise science major who graduated in May. “This was such an incredible opportunity that has given me such a taste and want for more.”

More than 3,000 students from across the SUNY system (including 60 from Brockport) applied for the opportunity, which was funded by UNICEF.

Lindsay Crane ’08/’16 from the Center for Global Education and Engagement, Kim Piatt from the Office of Community Development, and Sandra Vazquez ’03/’08 from the Educational Opportunity Program selected the group that would be led by Brockport.

They sought a diverse group that would bring different perspectives and talents to the experience. But each candidate that was selected shared something in common: a desire to make a difference.

“As a young Latina activist, I felt compelled to come and help my people and come help rebuild my island, and give back any way I can,” said Emily Nunez, a psychology and women and gender studies double-major. “When the hurricanes happened, I felt so helpless. So when this opportunity was presented to me, I had to grab it.”

The work the students did varied based on their strengths. Some hauled tools and other materials back and forth, while making sure the workers stayed hydrated. Others worked side-by-side with skilled trade workers, cutting lumber and hammering nails.

When they weren’t laboring on rooftops, they were learning about the people they served. Crane, Piatt, and Vazquez led a course that discussed the history of Puerto Rico and the social context of the territory. Each student was tasked with designing a project that addresses a social issue in the territory.

The two-week experience left a lasting impression on those involved. Piatt returned home and launched her own fundraising initiative to support All Hands and Hearts.

“I was very moved by their efforts to try to harness the collective power of everyday people,” she said. “The work that this organization does is really amazing. They do things that really improve the everyday life of people who wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise.”

Last Updated 7/1/20

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