Pulling together for Puerto Rico

Lynn students stand strong in the face of disaster.

Students raise the Puerto Rican flag.
Lourdes, Krissy and Alejandra raise the Puerto Rican flag.

When Hurricane Maria delivered Category 4 destruction to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico Sept. 20, the 16 Puerto Rican students at Lynn could only wait, worry and watch the horror of the storm unfold on TV. 

Junior Krissy Ortiz is from Guaynabo, a suburb of San Juan. “I kept calling my parents, telling them to find a flight out.” 

Krissy’s parents rode out the storm in the security of the U.S. Army base, where they are both teachers. The base maintained a cell signal and electricity throughout the storm, so Krissy was one of the lucky ones who received videos and texts from her parents even as the hurricane raged. It was after the storm, when her mom and dad returned to their neighborhood, when Krissy felt most anxious and homesick. 

“They lost power in Irma and it never came back on before Maria. So, it is like week 10 for them without power. Our house had minimal damage, but it’s still hard to know that it’s a struggle there and I really can’t do anything to help.” 

Vice President of Student Affairs Anthony Altieri said helplessness is common when students are far from home during a crisis. 

“A lot of students utilize our counseling services when they feel stressed about not being there with their families,” he said. “More informally, our resident assistants encourage students to talk about their emotions.” 

As soon as the college learns of a disaster, Altieri’s team identifies a list of students from that location and reaches out, encouraging students to connect with counseling or the dean of students if they’re struggling with classes. 

“We’ll knock on doors to see how they’re adjusting. Any disruption to your routine can be stressful,” he said, “but especially if you’re a 19-year-old watching a hurricane destroy your hometown from a thousand miles away.” 

“It helps me to talk with someone who has been through the experience too.”

Lourdes Rubero, junior, sports management

Alejandra Resto, a sophomore from Homestead who was born in Puerto Rico, has slowly learned of her extended family’s status. Her grandparents lost their house in the storm. 

“Part of the building fell on my grandmother and fractured her arm,” Alejandra said. “A military truck came to their neighborhood, and they set her arm for her. There was no hospital for her to go to. It’s hard to know that little kids and the elderly are suffering. I want my grandparents to come over here to live.”

Lourdes Rubero, a junior who grew up in Orlando, considers Puerto Rico her home away from home. She spends every holiday there with her extended family. None of them suffered injuries during Hurricane Maria, but their lives continue to be upended. One cousin couldn’t send in college applications because she had no electricity. Weeks after the storm, her grandmother’s neighborhood was still without power. Even so, her grandma cooked dinner for her neighbors every night. 

“Everyone gives to everyone else. They’ll rebuild, but it’s such a heartbreak,” she said. “It helps me to talk with someone who has been through the experience too.” 

Alejandra said all Puerto Rican students—whether they live there still or not—have pulled together. 

“We try to help each other,” she said. “And we’ve all done whatever we can, like packing food and medicine to send to our families there.” 

The campus has organized supply drives for areas impacted by 2017’s storms. Altieri said Lynn plans to help Puerto Rico more directly when the infrastructure there is more stable. 

In the meantime, Lynn has extended payment plans for families impacted by the storms. 

An emergency fund for Caribbean students was offered by the Institute for International Education. Lynn has also established a new scholarship for students impacted by natural disasters. To contribute, visit give.lynn.edu

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