Volunteering In Puerto Rico Is “A Work Of Love”
Last Updated: 19 Sep 2022
Disaster Relief & Emergency Servicesecho $minutes. " Minute Read"?>
Each year, volunteers from Thirst Missions fly to Puerto Rico to help Endeavors clean, repair, and rebuild homes damaged by hurricanes.
Every summer, something incredible happens for our team in Puerto Rico: complete strangers fly out to our island from across the continental United States, from Canada, and from Central America to help us clean, repair, and rebuild homes damaged by past hurricanes.
The engine propelling this operation is a service organization called Thirst Missions, a service organization that leads short-term missions trips in Puerto Rico, Alaska, Appalachia, and Belize. This summer, and many summers before this, Thirst Missions has helped Endeavors with its hurricane recovery effort by sending dozens of volunteers to repair homes in our community.
We sat down with Duane Lanza, Director of Thirst Missions’ operations in Puerto Rico, to learn more about the work Thirst Missions does with Endeavors. “I enjoy helping people, and I know that here in Puerto Rico, we have a lot of work to do.”
Hurricane Recovery In Puerto Rico
Shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, Endeavors secured a grant through FEMA Disaster Case Management and established an office in San Juan. In the subsequent years, we have been able to help repair and rebuild over 9,000 homes. Even though the FEMA grant has since ended, Director of Operations Carlos Cubero and his team of Disaster Case Managers continue to rebuild homes with the help of faith-based organizations like Thirst Missions who volunteer their time and expertise to come to Puerto Rico to continue the recovery effort.
We’ve made tremendous progress in Puerto Rico; however, the island is constantly at risk of natural disasters, which means that we must both help the island fully recover and prepare for the next storm that may be around the corner.
“It’s been almost 3-4 years since we started our partnership with Thirst Missions,” Endeavors Deputy Development Officer Angel Cartegena notes.
The impact that Thirst Missions and its volunteers have on our community in Puerto Rico can’t be understated. Nearly all of the people Endeavors serves through its Disaster Recovery program are low-income with minimal means to make repairs on their homes. Oftentimes our clients are also elderly and disabled. Many have been living with blue tarps—a poor substitute for a real roof—since Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017. Endeavors works hard to secure donated funds and materials for repairs, but the labor, time, and compassion that Thirst Missions volunteers bring to the effort are truly invaluable. In fact, it’s life-changing.
Roof Repairs and Beyond
A day-in-the-life of a Thirst Mission volunteer working with Endeavors is a lot of hard work.
“We do lots of roof repairs!” says Lanza. “Pressure washing, cleaning, repairing the cracks on the roof. With the donations that Endeavors provides, we’ve put roof sealer down on a lot of roofs. One of the other services we do is scraping and painting houses, cleaning houses, and yard work.” They even do light construction work like repairing flooring and walls to make a home safer and more comfortable.
Thirst Missions volunteers don’t have to be skilled in handyman works or construction. Each year, the organization coordinates several groups of skilled laborers and tradesmen to volunteer their talent in Puerto Rico, but the majority of volunteers are youth and church groups who learn new skills on the job.
“They’re here to help, but also we try to teach them what the job entails,” Lanza explains. “It’s very empowering for them to learn something new.” It’s not all work, though! We want every volunteer to have an unforgettable experience in Puerto Rico, so the trip always includes epic volleyball showdowns and at least one trip to the beach.
Bridging Language Barriers with Hope
While nearly all of our employees at Endeavors Puerto Rico were born and raised on the island, many of the volunteers do not speak Spanish, and seeing how relationships develop and form without language is deeply moving for everyone at both Endeavors and Thirst Missions.
“Most of the people that the volunteers go to help are elderly and they just want to talk,” Angel Cartegena explains. “It’s crazy because nobody speaks English but they want to speak. So they use sign language. They make the sign for “love” and use their eyes and hands and body to tell their appreciation and their gratitude…to say thank you for all the work that they do. I don’t have words to say how that fills my heart and gives me all the energy that I need to perform all the duties that we have here at Endeavors. We are grateful for Duane and for all the Thirst Missions volunteers.”
How Are Volunteers Making An Impact?
“After every disaster, whether it’s a storm or a pandemic,” says Lanza, “there are people who are in depression, who need love in their lives.”
For some, he says, that means praying and becoming closer to God. For others, it’s accepting help from a stranger and knowing that you are cared for—that no one is going to leave you behind or let you fall through the cracks. For the youth and adults who volunteer with Thirst Missions, he says, “They get a new perspective into life and into God’s work: looking out for other people as human beings. That’s what we’re hardwired to do.”
Our ability to positively empower and impact people who have survived disasters but still live with the burden of the wreckage doubles when we partner with other service organizations and community entities. Endeavors has been blessed to work with the staff and volunteers at Thirst Missions.
“They’re not just rebuilding a house,” says Endeavors Puerto Rico Director of Operations Carlos Cubero. “They’re not just fixing the roof. They’re fixing people’s lives. We live six months out of the year in hurricane season, and Thirst Missions leaves people stronger and more resilient. And it’s about more than a roof. It’s about more than debris or pressure washing. It’s about hope and making this world better. This is a work of love.”
“We started a relationship based on trying to serve others and we’ve grown stronger every project,” says Lanza. “I’m looking forward to continuing working with Endeavors for many more years to come. We’re here to stay.”
And so are we! Endeavors welcomes volunteers year-round (especially those who aren’t afraid of a little friendly competition on the volleyball court!). To learn more about volunteer opportunities in Puerto Rico, email [email protected].
With offices in San Juan and across the continental United States, Endeavors is a national non-profit that provides an array of programs and services in support of children, families, Veterans, natural disaster victims, and those struggling with mental illness and other disabilities. Endeavors serves vulnerable people in crisis through innovative personalized services and Emergency Services/Disaster Response.