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The Garcia Davila Project - Teens4PR


The purpose of this blog is to provide information and updates on the Garcia Davila Project, part of Teens4PR.org   Many people, especially those who have so generously donated funds to this project, will ask me about the situation in Puerto Rico, whether things are improving, and how my project is progressing.  My response is to tell them that progress in PR has been very, very slow.  In the bigger cities, especially San Juan, progress is evident.  Today, visitors to San Juan will barely notice any evidence of the devastation brought by the Hurricane almost two years ago.  But those visitors do not visit the towns in the interior of the island --  towns where most people live below the poverty line and government help has been scarce.  The towns up in the mountainous central part of the island seem to have been forgotten.  And this is where the Garcia Davila Project has concentrated its efforts.
I hope that when you read this blog, and see the photos, you will realize the real impact your support has made in the lives of others.  You will see that your generosity has made such a difference -- giving a family a roof over their heads or a mattresses to sleep on; providing elderly folks with a washing machine or a refrigerator; and giving hope and showing them that there are people who still care for the victims of Hurricane Maria.

Hurricane Maria struck my native Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017.  I was born and raised in Puerto Rico.  I came to the USA to go to college in 1983.  And although I never lived there again (except for about 18 months when my mother was very sick), I visit the island numerous times each year.   Ever since I retired from a Federal government job in 2015, I have tried to think of ways to help Puerto Ricans who live in squalid conditions and struggle to find jobs in a sluggish economy with an unemployment rate many times higher than the mainland United States.  Hurricane Maria gave me the answer.   












A few days after the hurricane hit the island I contacted the Red Cross and signed up to become a volunteer.  I took the training in record time and on October 22, 2017 I landed in PR as a Red Cross volunteer.  During three intense weeks, I delivered food, water and supplies to numerous towns in the north and central areas of PR.  The devastation was overwhelming.  I had difficulty sleeping.  But the more I saw of the suffering of the Puerto Rican people, the more I wanted to keep helping.

My awesome team


My cot for three weeks!



During my time with the Red Cross, I met many wonderful and dedicated people.  But the two that left the biggest impact on me were:  Pastor Elvis Rodriguez from Toa Alta and Dorian Gaetan Natal from Vega Baja.

Pastor Elvis Rodriguez:
The neighborhood of Villa La Esperanza in Toa Alta was by far the neighborhood in the worst condition that I encountered during my three weeks of traveling the island with the Red Cross.  Pastor Rodriguez was my contact in Toa Alta and he took us to Villa La Esperanza to deliver the supplies.  After delivering supplies there and another community, El Progreso, my Red Cross teammates agreed that these two communities were the poorest and most devastated that we had encountered in our stay in PR.  I was very impressed by Pastor Rodriguez's leadership.  Everyone at La Esperanza respects him and trusts him and the children run to him when they see him.  He is full of love and kindness.  La Esperanza is not even part of his congregation, which is actually about 25 minutes away.  But he, as we say in PR, "ayuda sin mirar a quien" -- meaning he helps no matter who is in need.  He has truly dedicated his life to helping others.

Dorian Gaetan Natal
I wasn't even supposed to meet Dorian, but God placed her in my way.  Her boss Piro was my contact in Vega Baja.  He couldn't meet me, so he sent Dorian.  Dorian works for the Housing Department.  She is the mother of two rambunctious little boys.  Dorian also suffers from a disability.  None of this halts her exorbitant desire to help the community.  Dorian immediately offered to ride with us to make sure we took the supplies to the most devastated and hardest to reach areas.  At least twice she opened the way for our truck: once cutting branches with a machete and another time propping some downed power lines up with a broom.   Dorian was unstoppable.  At times, because of the effects of her disability,  she could barely walk, but somehow she kept going.



Back home in NY, I never stopped thinking about PR.  With the help of friends, neighbors, church, local schools, and others, I collected supplies such as bottled water, batteries, diapers, canned food, water filters, and other essentials and delivered them to collection points in NYC.  Different local and government agencies shipped them to PR.




A total of about 13 SUVs filled with supplies were driven to collection points in NYC.  Thank you to all those who helped out. You know who you are!!


Puerto Rico Family Institute on 14th St, NYC, a collection point.


At around this time, my children, Liana Sofia and Michael Antonio signed up with Teens4PR,  a non profit organization founded in response to Hurricane Maria.  Teens4PR's mission is to involve teenagers with or without ties to PR in relief efforts.



On the day after Christmas, December 26, 2017, I laid in bed thinking about the people in PR and especially about the two  community leaders, Dorian and Pastor Rodriguez.   I wanted to keep helping them.  But didn't know how or where to start.

So that night I called Dorian.   We spent a good two hours on the phone.  Listening to her description of the continuing hardships broke my heart:  no running water, no electricity,  lack of fuel, schools still not operating, slow or non-existent government assistance.  She also described how, in La Trocha, a community in her town Vega Baja,  children received no toys for Christmas.  Upon hearing this,  I immediately offered to help buy the children toys for Three Kings' Day.  Three Kings' Day is a religious holiday (January 6th) celebrated in Spain and Latin America.  In the rural parts of PR, this holiday is celebrated more than Christmas.  As with Christmas, children also receive toys and treats, but usually only one or two.  As soon as I hung up the phone I emailed about 40 friends conveying the situation in Vega Baja and my desire to purchase toys to be distributed at a Three Kings' Day celebration.  The donations poured in.  I engaged the help of some friends and relatives in PR.  A friend was able to secure a donation of toys, clothes, backpacks and school supplies from the local Toys R Us and donations of food from a local restaurant.  At the end, a big Three Kings' Day celebration was held for about 90 kids and their parents.  Because the toys were donated, we used the money we collected to buy shoes and sneakers for the children.  A friend and neighbor from Irvington, NY donated 500 pairs of socks.  The event was a total success and the children and their parents had a well deserved celebration.

Dorian at right with her two kids and the Three Kings

My sister (left)








First Benefit:  February 2018

In February 2018,  Dobbs Ferry South Presbyterian Church youth group led by Lenore Person voted to organize an event to benefit Teens4PR.  Local teens participated in a beautiful evening of music and dance performances.  Puerto Rican food and desserts were served.  This benefit raised $3,826.00 for the Garcia Davila project.

                                 









                                                                             
                                                                              


First Trip:  March 2018

In March 2018, I took my very first group of teens on a service trip to Puerto Rico.  The group consisted of my daughter Liana Sofia, Julia Weber, Katy Diep and Naomi Van Hoogerstraten.  While traveling the island with the Red Cross, I noticed that practically every family had placed their water soaked, moldy mattresses outside to be carted away.  This gave me the idea of purchasing mattresses.  With the money raised we purchased mattresses directly from the factory in PR and delivered them with a borrowed truck to save on delivery charges.   We also helped the elderly with home appliances and brought donated shoes to some children.



At Mattress Global factory in Caguas, PR  





We found this child walking alone and barefoot so we put on a pair of sneakers.   We waited until his dad showed up.
Lenore's house got three feet of water during the Hurricane.  Her refrigerator somehow "survived" but not her stove.  She takes care of her quadriplegic 51-year-old son.  Through the magic of Facebook we were able to get her son a hospital bed.

Group photo.  Photo was taken at what was left of Giovanni's house. Giovani is Dorian's cousin.  Giovanni helped us deliver mattresses in his truck.



 Second Trip:  March 2018 

Our second trip took place in March 2018.   The group consisted of my son Michael, his friend Brenna Hazen and Mary Davis, a Red Cross volunteer I met while in PR.  Pastor Rodriguez told us that Villa La Esperanza was in dire need of tools.  So we purchased about $500.00 worth of tools for them from the local hardware store. We also purchased building materials such as concrete blocks, sand, gravel and cement.  Most home appliances were soaked by the hurricane at La Esperanza.  We met residents who were still using them even though they hardly worked.   We met grandmothers who were washing their clothes, including sheets and towels, by hand.  On this trip, we were able to replace 4 washing machines and a few refrigerators.

One day, Pastor Rodriguez told us that the nuns from a nearby orphanage had provided him with a list of supplies they urgently needed.  My cousin's daughter, Laura UbiƱas, collected the supplies at her high school and we helped delivered them.

Brenna, my son Michael, Pastor Rodriguez, Mary Davis, unknown, and Jose "El Veterano", receiving the tools. 




Two views of Villa La Esperanza


This girl (in photo above with Dorian) was sleeping on this trampoline since the Hurricane.  We provided her with a twin size bed (and a lollipop!)

Orphanage in Bayamon, PR



In April of 2018, Teens4PR members Sofia and Michael Garcia and myself began baking Tres Leches cake and selling it at Geordanes, a neighborhood deli and gourmet market.  All proceeds go to Teens4PR.




Third Trip:  July 2018

In July 2018 we took our third service trip to Toa Alta and Vega Baja, Puerto Rico.  The group consisted of my daughter Sofia and local teens Clara Pysh, Warren Lewis, Liam Lyons and John Esposito.  During this trip we got to work alongside Convoy of Hope, a USA faith-based organization committed to rebuilding or replacing houses damaged by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.  On this trip we helped build three houses.  One of these houses belonged to Aixa, a single mother of three small children.  Right after the hurricane, Aixa had no choice but to send her two oldest sons to live with their dad in the USA because she was having difficulty providing basic necessities for them, such as food, water and shelter.


Photos of Aixa's house during construction:








On this trip we also delivered food, water and appliances to people in need:






Second Benefit:  September 2019




Over the summer of 2018, with the help of the Immaculate Conception Church in Irvington, NY and local teenagers, we organized another Teen Benefit to raise money for Teens4PR.






This benefit, like the previous one, involved musical talent from local teenagers, food, dancing, a raffle and the performance of a professional Salsa group --who taught us a few Salsa moves!  This event raised a total of $9,750.00 plus a private donation of $5,000 for a grand total of $14,750.00.  Awesome!!!

In mid January 2019, the Davila Garcia Project was thrilled to receive another private donation, this time of $15,000.00!!!  This money was used to purchase home appliances, mattresses, building material, partial labor cost for roofs in Vega Baja and Toa Alta, as well as 17 twin beds for a home sheltering abused and neglected children in Arecibo, PR.  This orphanage had significant damage to their building and as a result about 50% of their beds were ruined.


Fourth Trip:  February 2019

In February 2019, the Garcia Davila Project went on its fourth trip to PR.  Another group of teenagers took part:  Sofia Garcia, Gabriela Veciana, Julia Weber, Lexi Downes and Skye Bosshart.  Gabriela's mother, Claudia, also went with us.  It was nice to have some adult company!  We helped build houses and purchased some building material, appliances and mattresses.







Picking up appliances for Fernando, Jose and Mayra, residents of La Esperanza







  

                                                                    PROGRESS

A lot of people ask me if there's any progress.  YES, there's progress.  Because of your generosity -- with time, money and supplies -- the Garcia Davila Project has made a difference:  about 150 people are sleeping on new mattresses, about 30 people are cooking meals on new stoves, about 30 more people can store their food safely in refrigerators, about 12 families have washing machines, three now have  a roof over their heads, and countless more have benefited from the building material we provided.  But most importantly, the people of Puerto Rico, not only in Toa Alta, Vega Baja and neighboring areas, but those who hear that we come from New York to help out, feel blessed, inspired, hopeful and grateful knowing that people care for them.   These people are always trying to find ways to thank us and always want to feed us!  They want to reciprocate even though they have very little if anything at all.   We have seen lots of happy and sad tears. We have laughed and cried ourselves, and in the end, I feel we get the most out of this experience.  A big "THANK YOU" to all of you.  Without your support, and the hard work of these motivated teenagers, none of this would have been possible.


SOME BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS:

This is Don Isidoro's house for 30 years.  No water or electricity.  He is 91 years old.  With our funds and funds from the local government, his new house, shown below is almost finished.


Don Isidoro getting a hair cut!

His new house is getting built right next to his old one. 





 This is Ramon Luis Rivera's house.  He built this house himself and somehow, it survived the Hurricane.  But he didn't have a bathroom or running water.  His new house is shown below.

Ramon Luis' new house!






Johany, a single mother of a little boy.  The hurricane flattened her house but she put it back together.  They lived here until her new house was finished (green house shown below)



Although built in wood, this house and Ramon Luis' were built to sustain Hurricane winds.


This is just a sample of the many appliances we replaced.  All refrigerators and stove/oven combinations were replaced with new appliances.  Old washing machines were replaced with refurbished ones.  


The owner of this washing machine kept using it despite the fact that she had to  pour the water in and then take it  out with buckets.


The oven was not working and only two burners were in working condition.  The refrigerator on the top right was the only one working.   Too small for a family of four.  Both appliances were replaced.

Refrigerator was replaced.


NEW APPLIANCES:

 














COMING UP:

A fifth trip with local teens is in the works for July 2019.

Please fill free to spread the word about this Project and Teens4PR.  And again THANK YOU  for your interest and for your generous donations.  

To donate please visit Teens4PR.org and mention the Garcia Davila project.

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