Successes for Institutions
Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) Welcome Center
Many institutions emphasized the fact that they collaborated and partnered with other organizations to provide aid of various forms. Through the interviews conducted with the institutions, it was evident that the CREC-led Welcome Center was the most successful form of intervention. CREC, the Capitol Region Education Council in Hartford, Connecticut was created in 2007 to “provide a friendly and professional environment to serve families, schools and community.” In response to the tragedy Hurricane Maria inflicted upon the island of Puerto Rico, CREC was able to open their Welcome Center to families immigrating to Hartford. The Center functioned as a “one stop shop,” where food pantries, case managers, housing help, employment help, clothing banks, translation services, and transportation aid were provided. To facilitate these basic needs, CREC reached out into the Hartford community through donation requests. Such services fostered an “established relationship” between the service providers and the displaced families.
The Relief Center for Our Caribbean Friends Metrics Report states that the Welcome Center was able to collect a generous amount of donations and was able to distribute funds effectively. $3,000 was raised for hotel stays for displaced families, $44,000 for rent deposits, and $65,474 for ongoing support to families. In total, $163,744 were raised from private donors throughout the Welcome Center’s duration. From November 1, 2017 to March 17, 2018 the Welcome Center served 2,612 individuals.
A Sense of Community
Many praised the aid and the perseverance of the Hartford community. One representative from a social service agency that was interviewed stated that “everyone came together to lend a hand”, and that this was what he viewed as most successful from the process. The community identified with the displaced families due to sharing a nationality with those migrating from Puerto Rico or from having close personal ties to the island. The connections served as an incentive to assist the displaced families as much as possible. During one interview, an individual stated: “for me, [it was] the first time that I saw agencies just saying ‘forget about our names, forget about fighting dollars, how can we help'” to emphasize the community partnership that occurred throughout the city. Grassroots organizations were especially involved in the Hartford community and strived to foster aid for the displaced families.
In particular, one grassroots organization that created relationships with both the displaced families and institutions located in Hartford was our community partner, Lydia Velez Herrera from Lilly Sin Barreras. Lydia offered her services to displaced families in a variety of ways, all that ultimately made the transition to life in Hartford significantly easier and more welcoming for those families. Lydia was a primary person in cooking for large amounts of individuals that were living in hotels who did not have access to food or kitchens. Additionally, finding money for rent and initial deposits, organizing transportation assistance, and her commitment to connecting anyone in need of help with the right organization or service are only a few examples of the aid she provided the displaced families. But, it was evident through the interviews we conducted that Lydia’s knowledge of the culture, the language, and her desire to be both a friend and a support system to anyone who needed her were her contributions that stood out the most. Every family stated that Lydia was the best resource they found in Hartford, and one family went as far as describing her as “an angel,” that granted them with aid.
The Hartford community saw the struggles that the displaced families were experiencing, and without hesitation claimed the responsibility to aid their transition to a new city.
Successes for the Displaced Families
Some of the displaced families that migrated to Hartford came along with their children who were still in the process of completing either their primary education or secondary education back in Puerto Rico. An essential component to the transition into Hartford for the displaced families was the continuation of education for their children. Despite the cultural differences in terms of the educational system, as well as the language barrier, the families and children were able to receive educational services. When speaking of the quality of education that their children received in Hartford, one individual that was interviewed stated that their kid observed that “aquí [en Hartford] uno aprende,” : “here [in Hartford] one learns”. Moreover, the opportunity to receive educational services has not only been possible to children, but also to adults. During an interview with one of the displaced family members it was shared that they are currently studying to become an assistant within a pharmacy. This is just one example of the continuation of education that took place in Hartford. According to the families that were interviewed, education is a pathway to attaining better opportunities.
The hardships the displaced families had to endure is something that cannot be overshadowed, and in fact, their resiliency should be admired. Despite the fact that there were some organizations that offered aid to the families, there was also a lack of effective and long-term aid. Many of the families resorted to individually seek a way to acquire employment and housing. Some of their experiences included walking to locate housing, as well as communicating with their community to foster job opportunities. Although it was described as a process “muy doloroso”: “painful,” the families that were interviewed have been able to find housing as well as employment to continue to pursue better living conditions. The task of individually searching to improve their transition to Hartford showcases a notion of “valerse por si misma” : “fending for one self” and perseverance to attain the “better opportunities” offered in Hartford that were mentioned by some of the displaced family members.
The displaced families we interviewed emphasized their gratefulness towards the individuals who were a constant in offering them help during their transition to Hartford. Many of the families stated that they were treated by these specific individuals with care and attentiveness, which allowed them to feel as if they could rely on someone during this process. In addition, some of the families highlighted being “blessed,” in terms of receiving anything from clothing donations to car donations, as well as monetary aid to obtain housing in Hartford. When talking about this specific kind of aid a family member expressed that “fue lo mejor [la ayuda ofrecida] que nos ha podido pasar”: “it was the best thing that could happen to us” during that time.