A UnidosUS Affiliate helped this resilient Puerto Rican family find home and a new life after Hurricane Maria

After the Jurado-Santos family were gifted their new home in Orlando, and after all the media, the community organizations, and all the people celebrating with them left, their five-year old, Emma Jannyerie, was excited to share a prayer with the whole family: “Mi papito Dios, thank you for the stove, thank you for the fridge, thank you for the microwave, thank you for the washing machine, thank you for my room….” she said. Her parents, Juan Carlos and Jinny, laugh telling the story: “When it was my turn,” Jinny said chuckling, “I said: ‘Well, Lord, Emma said almost all of it, but I also want to thank you.’”

By Beatriz Paniego-Béjar, Content Specialist, UnidosUS

How a resilient Puerto Rican family found their home and a new life after the storm

When Hurricane Maria hit the island, Juan Carlos Jurado and Jinny Santos Hernández clung to staying in Puerto Rico, in spite of all the difficulties and hardships they knew they’d face ahead: they loved the island, their family is there, and they had a good life in their home country. After the hurricane, they were surviving well enough: they could go to the gorge of the top of the mountains to wash their clothes and bathe; they could get cases of water—even if it meant lining up for two or three hours for just one case of water for a family of five—Juan Carlos was working six days a week, although that meant he could only go shopping one day a week, while Jinny was taking care of the kids, with whatever they had and however she could.

But unfortunately, things got worse: “They told us that the gorges had a leptospirosis [a potentially dangerous bacteria], so we had to stop going there,” Jinny says. “The schools weren’t opening, and finally there was one that opened, but as soon as it started, my son got conjunctivitis, and we were afraid he would pass it on to the girls.” Jeimmy Armando, their 11-year-old, didn’t infect Emma Jannyerie or Laira Joyce, but the girls did get sick, with fever, vomit, and diarrhea: “We didn’t want to take them to the hospital because we kept on hearing on the news about all the virus outbreaks, and the primary care doctors were closed,” Juan Carlos explains. “It was then when we realized we had to go, we couldn’t handle the situation any longer,” Jinny continues, who at that time was also four months pregnant with Juan Daniel, who is now 10 months old.

Never give up

When asked about the hardest part of leaving Puerto Rico and settling here, Jinny and Juan Carlos mentioned being separated from their family, leaving their country and dealing with a foreign language (“It especially shocked my boy,” says Jinny). Hearing their story, however, one wonders where they found the strength to keep going when so many challenges came their way. Their faith was without a doubt key, as was their dream of a better future for their kids.

When they first arrived in Florida, they were certain that they wanted to try and make it on their own, so they didn’t take advantage of the help that was being offered at the Orlando airport to displaced families from Puerto Rico, headed by UnidosUS Affiliate Latino Leadership Inc., who is our 2018 Family Strengthening Awardee. They first went to Sandford, where their daughter’s godfather lived, but after a month they realized the situation was unsustainable, and since all the hotels were at capacity, they eventually realized they needed to go back to the airport and ask for help. It was then that they started their relationship with Latino Leadership.

After going from hotel to hotel, trying to find the one that would have the amenities they needed, such as a kitchen to be able to cook for the whole family, they finally ended up in a hotel where the Jurado-Santos family developed a friendship with one of the receptionists: “She practiced her Spanish with us, and we practiced our English with her. It was super chévere,” says Juan Carlos. At one point, they told her how they wanted to move to their hotel in Sanford because it was closer to their son’s school. They learned then that the hotel had a very strict policy about children in the property, reason why the one in Sanford turned them down so many times.

However, this receptionist was willing to put in a good word for the Jurado-Santos family: “They are a good family, working people, with very well-behaved children,” the receptionist shared with the managers at the hotel in Sanford. Thanks to her, the family’s lives were a bit easier, and they were able to save enough money in a month and a half to move into an apartment.

The dream of owning a home

Everything was coming together one step at a time, and the Jurado-Santos family was starting to live their American Dream. However, living in an apartment with four children, where they heard their neighbors above and below, and they could disturb them as well, wasn’t the best case scenario, especially since Emma Jannyerie, the daughter who shared that beautiful prayer, is autistic and is full of energy: “We wanted a house where she could have her space to run and jump, and use all her energy,” Jinny explained.

After a year, they moved to a house where they they stayed for five months before something amazing happened: “We are now moving into our own home,” Juan Carlos says over the phone laughing happily.

For years, JP Morgan Chase has renovated distressed homes and given them to nonprofit organizations, who found families that needed them the most. This joint effort between UnidosUS Affiliate Latino Leadership and Hogar Hispano—created by UnidosUS in 2004—found the Jurado-Santos family.

How a resilient Puerto Rican family found their home and a new life after the storm
From left: Marcos Morales of Hogar Hispano, Marucci Guzman of UnidosUS Affiliate Latino Leadership, and members of the JP Morgan Chase team.

When they first arrived at Latino Leadership, after learning about them at the airport’s Puerto Rico Family Response Center, Jinny went simply to ask for some toys for her kids since they lost them all after Hurricane Maria. After that, Latino Leadership referred Emma Jannyerie to Santiago and Friends Family Center for Autism, a center created by Marytza Sanz, President of Latino Leadership, to help Spanish-speaking families to receive services for autistic minors, as well as support for the whole family.

“[This organization] is the best help I could find for Emma,” Jinny said in an interview with the newspaper Orlando Sentinel. “She was very aggressive; her behavior has changed so much. She has learned to behave better and they’ve given me tools to work with her. The way she came in and how she is now is completely different. She’s still strong, but it’s been a relief.”

Since then, the Jurado-Santoses have been part of the Latino Leadership family, and when this house giveaway happened, Jinny and Juan Carlos wrote a compelling letter on why they needed it. Some of the reasons included being a family of six, having lost everything in Puerto Rico, and making Juan Carlos’s commute to work shorter so he would be able to spend more time with his family. Invited to tour the home in May, the family was surprised by receiving the keys to this mortgage-free house.

“That was an explosion of emotions. We had waited one year and three months for this to happen,” Juan Carlos says. Jinny cried out of happiness: “To get your own home is something big, to know that we are finally going to have stability, build a dream.”

What comes next

“We are going to put a fence in the garden, so the children can play safely there,” Juan Carlos says about his first goal for the family’s new home. “And the other thing I am very much looking forward to is falling asleep in my own bed looking up to the ceiling of my own house.” Jinny adds: “Yes, to have that relief, security, and peace. We truly thank Papito Dios and all those people that made this possible.”

Latino Leadership will also offer the Jurado-Santos family financial counseling to help them save the money they’d otherwise put toward their mortgage.

The family moved to their new home on the weekend of May 24, since they were waiting for Jeimmy Armando to finish school.

This story brings together different organizations with different reaches, and it shows what can be accomplished when working toward a common goal, in this case, help a family in need get back on their feet and become fully integrated in the U.S. society.

UnidosUS is proud to have such a strong and committed Affiliate Network making stronger communities for a stronger America. Congratulations to the Jurado-Santos family! We look forward to continuing to see you achieve your American Dream.

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