Consistent treatment is essential for children with a disability or with autism. This is why a week after Hurricane Maria struck the island, SER de Puerto Rico’s therapists were already offering their services at the organization’s centers in Ponce and San Juan.

“If our kids’ conditions aren’t treated, they worsen,” explained Nilda Morales, president of SER de Puerto Rico, a nonprofit that annually works with 4,600 children and adults with special needs.

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Founded in 1969 in the La Playa sector of the city of Ponce by a catholic nun, Sor Isolina Ferré, the Centers that bear her name belong to a non-profit organization that promotes the full development of the human being. The Sor Isolina Ferré Centers (CSIF) serve over 37,000 people of all ages who reside in 22 municipalities, in the areas of dropout prevention, violence prevention, and community empowerment and development through advocacy, education, and training programs.

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The hallways of the CREARTE center in San Juan fill with the sounds of teenagers chatting, teachers calling their classrooms to order, and children running energetically from one class to another. Some parts of the building are well lit thanks to a generator, while others remain dark, but aside from that everything goes on as if it were just another typical school day.

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Hurricane Maria hit land at Barrio Punta Santiago in the town of Humacao with winds reaching at least 185 miles an hour. The combination of rain and wind created a sea surge that flooded this community built by fishermen. Since 1985, this area is the home of Programa de Educación Comunitario de Entrega y Servicio (P.E.C.E.S.) which signals a community education program that emphasizes dedication and service. PECES is also the Spanish word for “fish,” a name that evokes the community’s origins. When José Javier Oquendo, PECES´ president, walked through the neighborhood after Hurricane Maria, he was overtaken with grief as neighbors in tears told him how the water flooded their modest homes taking all they owned. He later recounted, “These scenarios are only lived in horror movies. I didn´t know what to tell them.” But together, the community quickly realized “that what we need is our willpower”. PECES lost all of its facilities except for their main building, which houses its headquarters.

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