The passing of hurricanes Irma on September 5th and Maria on September 20th severely damaged three of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico (BGCPR)’ s 13 centers in Puerto Rico. Many of the BGCPR staff personally suffered the effects of the storm. But a few days after the Hurricanes, they returned to work to assess damages and determine how best to help their communities. A survey of BGCPR programs participants revealed that 10% of them had lost everything and many others were in need of food and water.
The BGCPR offers after-school programs for kids and teens throughout Puerto Rico through community-based centers. Programs are designed to empower youth to become good citizens, and lead productive and healthy lives. Educational programs include bilingual tutors and provide recreational activities in a safe environment. Ninety percent (90%) of children who participate in these programs live in households with a median income below the poverty level.
The town of Loíza is one of the poorest in Puerto Rico. It has the highest proportion of people of African descent. As a coastal town, it suffered the widespread destruction of homes. Electricity and water were not available after the first of the two hurricanes. With the help of volunteers and several civic organizations the BGCPR turned its Loíza location into a community support center, collecting and distributing water, food, clothing, and basic supplies. The Center also organized a crew that cooked and served thousands of hot meals.
BGCPR centers in Vieques, Bayamón, Santurce and Isabela were also used as community support centers. They distributed food and essential items donated by diverse foundations, corporations and individuals they organized medical evaluations by volunteer doctors, and assistance in applying for FEMA support. Resources were available to anyone who needed them, regardless of whether their children are enrolled in the programs or not. All this occurred while still offering their programs.
Public schools were closed, but BGCPR was open. "We did not have to think twice about it," said Olga Ramos, president of BGCPR. “We are known for ensuring the wellbeing of our children, and it must be so in this moment of historical crisis. Our programs help to give participants a sense of security and allows the parents to return to work while schools are closed. This, in turn, helps the economic recovery."
"Even before the hurricanes, our participants were already facing a difficult situation since most of the homes we reach are economically deprived," said Eduardo Carrera, BGCPR chief executive officer. "Our objective has always been to provide youth with the resources to explore their own interests, develop their talents and thrive in the current economy. This crisis will only make us stronger and give us the energy to continue. We will continue to assist our boys and girls to acquire the necessary skills to find jobs or to explore entrepreneurship so that they become economically independent and contribute to their community".
The programs allow the parents to return to work while schools are closed.
The Loíza location became a distribution center.
The programs give participants a sense of security.