‘I wanted to help others’: How one Puerto Rican teen found hope and community at a Boston UnidosUS Affiliate after Hurricane Maria

Puerto Rico

On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, we wanted to share a story of our community’s resiliency and the leadership of a UnidosUS Affiliate that has worked hard to help those affected to rebuild their lives.

Even though a year has passed, there’s still work to do in Puerto Rico, especially since we’re currently in the middle of hurricane season, and the island is still vulnerable.

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But in the midst of these challenges, Sociedad Latina, an UnidosUS Affiliate in the Boston area, has worked hard to help families who were displaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Sabrina S. is one of those people who have been helped by the Affiliate when her family made the decision to move to Massachusetts.

Unity March for Puerto Rico

Sabrina S. is a 16-year-old girl who enjoys helping others, being outside, and playing volleyball. One year ago, her family’s life changed in ways she could never have imagined.

Hurricane Maria had a devastating impact on her hometown of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. After months living in their home with no windows, electricity, or air conditioning and eating only one meal a day, Sabrina and her brother convinced their mother that moving was the best option. So it was that Sabrina, her 10-year-old brother, and their mother moved to Boston last November 2017.

Sabrina S.

Initially, they stayed with family members. Often times Sabrina had to be split up from her brother and mother because there was not enough space for all of them in their relatives’ homes. It wasn’t easy, and Sabrina was nervous at first about moving to a new city. But she came to feel purpose when she arrived at Sociedad Latina.

Sabrina’s mother had heard of the UnidosUS Affiliate from friends in Puerto Rico, and Andrea and the Welcome Center staff at Sociedad Latina helped Sabrina and her family apply for SNAP, FEMA, and housing assistance.  They were able to apply for housing and were placed in a hotel in nearby Brockton. They could now be together as a family while they searched for a more permanent living situation.

Sabrina also began volunteering at Sociedad Latina’s Welcome Center. She would come in as often as possible to help distribute food, toiletries, and winter clothing, taking particular interest in helping find clothing for young children. Through her time volunteering at Sociedad Latina, she became more comfortable in her new city, made friends with staff, and enjoyed her time helping others.

“Imagine moving somewhere new, [my mom’s] going to be without a job, I’m going to be without a job. I tried not to make a big deal about everything…I came at first so stressed out, I didn’t want to talk to anyone but after I came here [to Sociedad Latina] I wanted to help others. Volunteering was like a real job, and I would come early and stay late. When people would come in, I searched and searched to see if I could help. I would talk to people, ask how their experience went, and compare their experience to my own,” Sabrina explains.

Now Sabrina is furthering her education at Bunker Hill, found a job nearby, and feels more comfortable with everyone she meets. Sabrina is hopeful for the future. She wants to continue learning, complete her GED, and study law so that she can help others and advocate for those who do not have a voice.

UnidosUS Affiliates stepped up to welcome Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria. Pictured: Orlando’s Latino Leadership volunteers help newly arrived citizens from Puerto Rico at Orlando International Airport.
Latino Leadership in partnership with Turin Aviation took provisions to the La Perla community in San Juan.

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