At a school board meeting last fall, GMS counselor Jan Desmarais-Morse shared the Houses for Hurricanes project that GMS students took on, in which they made house magnets to raise funds for victims of Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey. Despite all the destruction in the U.S. and elsewhere, they struggled to find a suitable organization or school to donate their funds! After much networking and trial and error, they decided to target the devastation in Puerto Rico, as that area seemed to be hardest hit, and continues to be impacted by the 2017 hurricane to this day.
As it turned out, Goshen International Middle School student, Elena Stutzman and her family were taking an extended mission trip to Puerto Rico to lend a hand in March. Jan contacted Elena’s mother and asked if it would be possible to have Elena determine where the funds should go, after she had a chance to explore various agencies and communities. After careful consideration, the family suggested El Centro Paso in Aibonito, PR.
Below is a description of the organization and how it helps the community. There is also a letter of thanks that Mrs. Desmarais-Morse recently received from the program director. Because so many school board members and guests purchased magnets and supported the cause, Jan thought they might be interested in knowing how those funds were spent. GMS was able to send over $500 to benefit the community of Aibonito, PR.
Jan said “I am proud of the work our students did on behalf of students they may never know. This is just one way both Goshen New Tech and Goshen International Middle School students are impacting our global community.”
One of the “Houses for Hurricanes” magnets, made by GMS students.
(A letter from Elena’s mother, Rose Stutzman)
Greetings from Puerto Rico,
Yesterday we went to visit El Centro PASO, a community organization we had been hearing about. They are the organization that we are recommending. Elena liked the place as well.
As you may know the eye of the hurricane passed right over Aibonito, the highest city on the island. Soon after the hurricane, Centro Paso became the coordinating force for a network of leaders. They gave out food and clothing and water. Government agencies did that as well, but not with the same personal touch. At Centro Paso everyone had a name and a chance to tell their story and a chance to tell what they needed most. Centro Paso was begun by the local Catholic parish a few years ago without a hurricane in mind but was well prepared to work ecumenically and at the grassroots level when there was a crisis. A local Palestinian Muslim family made the first donation of food, for example. The evangelicals and Catholics went around with a loudspeaker truck to gather donations–people each gave what they could to help others.
Centro Pasos helped families who lost everything. They still feed people daily –just not nearly as many. They set up a laundry so that people who don’t have electricity could come and wash their clothes. (At church on Sunday about 1/4 of the people said they still didn’t have power.)
We like that it’s community based. We like that Margarita, the director, has the confidence of lots of people. We like that they were the place that people trusted after the hurricane. We like that everything is done by community volunteers–not lots of salaried personnel keeping the donation dollars at the top.
Their social services include: Food distribution, Meals, After school program, Vocational counseling, Program to help mothers and small children, Counselors to help people in emotional distress, Used clothing (people pay if they can), Stored food, (to be prepared for the next hurricane season), Emergency assistance to families, and Recreational activities
You can choose an area of donation.: For example things needed for the kitchen–they weren’t prepared for feeding large groups, so there have been extra costs involved there–or any of the other areas. Or you can give to their work in general. They may not be helping people rebuild right now but they certainly have provided for families in that way.
(A thank-you letter from El Centro PASO)
Dear Mrs. Jan,
On behalf of all the PASO Center volunteers and of all those who have received the benefit of your contribution, we would like to express our profound gratitude for the donation that you made to our organization. The past months have been a great challenge for us and for our island, but also of great joy for the blessings received. You are one of those blessings. Thanks to you, we have been able to get the help our community has needed so much after the lash of Hurricane Maria.
We will continue to carry out our social work service with the same enthusiasm with which we did in the past months. The PASO Center is a support center for the families, especially for the neediest people. Our services include: counseling services, case management, emergency financial aid, a food pantry, a store, a soup kitchen, and visits to the homes of bedridden people. In the afternoon we offer supervised assignments for children, table tennis, chess, painting and basic drawing. All services are free, and the work we do is voluntary.
We are convinced that God prepared us to provide and channel the help and assistance necessary for the restoration of our people. We invite you to continue to contact us through our Facebook page Centro PASO de Aibonito.
Again, on behalf of all those who have benefited from your contribution and on behalf of everyone at Centro PASO, thank you.
Margarita Centeno Director