“Their house is finally up and standing, but they have no appliances, no furniture because those were destroyed, as well,” says project director Mike Orfitelli, noting the Houses to Homes program provides household items as needed to those who lost everything.
Orfitelli has traveled to the island, once a month, since 2017 when Hurricane Maria devastated the area. He’s seen real progress but, he says, it’s slow-going.
“The infrastructure in Puerto Rico is still very challenging,” he explains. “There are places that don’t have traffic lights or the streets or damaged still.”
And the effects aren’t just tangible. Orfitelli says some survivors – even young ones – are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“There’s a large percentage of children suffering, worrying about the next one,” he says.
So, plans are in the works for The Salvation Army to host after-school programs and support groups.
“We talk about resilience in Puerto Rico,” says Orfitelli. “Families would get together, pool resources and cook, do whatever they had to do. They took care of each other which is a great lesson for our country.”
He expects The Salvation Army’s recovery efforts will last another five to ten years on the island. In addition to fear and uncertainty, he’s seen bravery and gratitude…and is thankful for lessons learned in Puerto Rico.
“We’ve seen things that would change your life, in terms of a person’s transition from hopelessness to hopefulness and that’s been a big part of it for me,” he says.
The Puerto Rican Day Parade – celebrating resilience and strength – takes place Sunday in Hartford.
You can see a live broadcast on News 8, starting at noon.
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