Puerto Rico Still Needs Our Help! {And How I Became Involved with Luis Munoz Rivera Elementary School in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.}

In January, my dad and I traveled to a place we both love, Puerto Rico. I was lucky enough to travel to Puerto Rico as a child, and even luckier to continue my travels to Puerto Rico as an adult through my work as a public relations pro for hotels & resorts. Through business travel, I was able to explore more of the island and always came away feeling so blessed to be promoting a place I truly loved – a vibrant, multifaceted destination where families, friends and lovers made unparalleled vacation memories.

Dad & daughter selfie in Old San Juan, January, 2018

Old San Juan is as gorgeous as ever!

Mackenzie napping poolside at El Conquistador in August, 2017

Along with millions of others around the world, my heart broke on September 18th as I watched televised coverage of Hurricane Maria, which showed a devastated Dominica and a path that pointed directly toward Puerto Rico. As much as we hoped and prayed, Puerto Rico was not spared Hurricane Maria’s wrath. Not even a little bit. Mother Nature unleashed her fury in a dramatic fashion and even months later, residents of Puerto Rico were left trying to pick up the pieces (literally) of their pre-Hurricane Maria lives.

View from a guestroom at El Conquistador, August, 2017

I wanted to help. I had to help. (How could one not want to help?) I saw hardworking U.S. citizens struggling to recover from a wicked storm that could have as easily barreled into the Connecticut coast. In the days that followed, large scale efforts by notable organizations and individuals including celebrities were quickly mobilized, and great funds were raised, but many challenges remained. Many, many challenges. I shared my desire to help with my friend Lydia, Director of Marketing and Communications at El Conquistador, a Waldorf Astoria Resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Lydia weathered the hurricane herself at her condo in nearby Ceiba. When I asked if she knew of any smaller organizations that needed assistance, specifically any schools, she told me about an elementary school in Aguadilla – on Puerto Rico’s northwestern tip – where her aunt, Maria, was the Principal. Like the rest of the island, Aguadilla received significant damage from Hurricane Maria.

Lydia and I at El Conquistador in August, 2017.

Lydia put me in touch with her aunt, and what struck me as most poignant after a few conversations was just how appreciative she was of my desire to help. And I hadn’t even done anything yet! Of course I wanted to help, I thought. Who wouldn’t? I’m so incredibly fortunate to live where I live, to have access to everything I need and more, it was a no brainer to me. But to Maria, it was an enormous gesture. I made plans to visit Luis Munoz Rivera Elementary School so that I could personally meet Maria and her wonderful colleagues and students.

Luis Munoz Rivera Elementary School in Aquadilla.

And what a fabulous visit it was! Armed with a duffle bag filled with supplies including essentials, crafts and even valentines, my dad and I visited with Principal Maria, Marisel Hilerio – one of the wonderful teachers – and more. We toured the school, visiting classrooms, the library and even the cafeteria, and were able to chat with a few of the students. What we brought them didn’t seem like much to us, but clearly it made an impact.

Off we go to Puerto Rico!

Meeting Maria & Marisel in January, 2018! (Marisel, me, Maria)

The school seems to be such a positive fixture in the community. From the amazing professionals to the bright and cheery murals on the walls, painted last year by one of the student’s parents, it’s clear the school is a beacon of happiness among students’ lives. They may not have all the shiny, tech-savvy tools we have here in Connecticut, but they incorporate engaging programming such as music, arts and crafts and even growing their own vegetable gardens.

Kids excitedly head to their next class!

The Library at Luis Munoz Rivera Elementary School.

Students sign out books at their library.

The students said they enjoyed planting their own vegetables!

How fun are these murals?

Jorlan Torres {Mr. Torres} was so welcoming and it was apparent he’s incredibly passionate about teaching!

By creating an Amazon “shopping list” for the school, I’m aiming to supplement the supplies typically purchased by the school as well as parents of students. As you may know, even here on the mainland many teachers are required to purchase their own classroom supplies. While power has been restored to much of Aguadilla, the area – like the rest of Puerto Rico – is struggling with the ripple effects of Hurricane Maria; months without power and the subsequent decrease in tourism has shuddered many businesses. Imagine how much more of a struggle it is for parents to provide new markers, or new composition notebooks.

If you’d like to take a look at the shopping list, you may view it here. Items purchased will be sent directly to Marisel Hilario, the teacher in charge of this project. And if you’re curious to learn more about the school, take a look at their Facebook page, here.

Every contribution counts, and I can assure you that all will be immensely appreciated by the administration and the students at Luis Munoz Rivera Elementary School.
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