Making a Difference in Our Community: Jennifer Robertson Helps Rebuild Her Former Home of Puerto RicoShare
By Dani Moritz-Long
It was a risky move — to say the least — when now Poinciana Campus Executive Dean Jennifer Robertson traded friends, family and familiar sights in New Hampshire for the tropical island of Puerto Rico. She walked off the plane alone, with no job, few possessions and no home. But, what she really needed was change — warmer weather in-particular — so she quickly adjusted to life on the once-foreign island, and Puerto Rico became her home. It also became the location for her language school, the New England School of Languages, and an island close to her heart.
This, of course, made watching the recent hurricanes destroying Puerto Rico and nearby islands heartbreaking. But, of all Jennifer’s feelings — fear, dismay, disbelief — hopeless wasn’t one of them.
“I made the decision to go to the islands to help after the first hurricane and connected with the International Rescue Group,” she said. “I was in the process of making plans to go to one of the islands and then Maria hit Puerto Rico, so I changed my plans. We started taking donations here, and I read about all that was going on in Puerto Rico with donations, so I wanted to go personally to identify communities in need and create distribution channels and contacts for our supplies and others who may want to help. I thought that so many of our students, staff and faculty are from the Caribbean or have family there, and I could help bring attention to the cause and ensure that donations were going to people in need.”
With the help of the Valencia community and the leadership of Student Development, Jennifer has raised funds and supplies vital to the hurricane relief effort — with multiple crates of critical supplies already en-route to the island. Valencia and community members have come together to provide six pallets of donations that include four generators and 133 boxes of clothing, food, personal hygiene supplies, blankets, baby supplies and hospital supplies to date. They are still working to raise funds to cover the cost of shipping for one or two more generators as well.
Now, Jennifer is preparing to embark for Puerto Rico with Organizational Development and Human Resources Campus Director Liz Suarez, who is from the island, on Sunday, November 19, 2017, to personally ensure that the items donated reach those in need, hear the stories of those affected and do whatever is necessary to support victims of the hurricanes. As a member of the Rotary Club of Poinciana, she has connected with the president of the Rotary of Club San Juan who will help identify communities with the greatest need.
“I’m told that hospitals in rural communities are pretty hard hit so that gives us a focus,” she explained. “We have one already set up to assist in the community of Castaner, and I’d like to try to identify one or two more. We are going to travel to San Juan, and then I rented a jeep so we can go to other towns that are more remote. It’s hard to communicate right now, so a lot of the itinerary we will figure out day to day. We just don’t know what we are going to encounter, but we are prepared to be without power or water for the week. Camping style! I just bought a big backpack for the trip.”
Fortunately, it’s not too late for you to join in her efforts.
“We are getting ready for a second shipment to go out in a couple of weeks,” she said. “As long as donations come in, I will continue to raise funds to ship them there, and we are also waiting for volunteer boats through the International Rescue Group.”
You can donate funds (which are used to purchase and ship donations) and/or supplies (like battery-operated fans and radios, water filter straws, baby-care items, Depends for adults, hygiene products and first-aid supplies) by sending a check made out to Valencia College (consider notating hurricane relief in the notes) or supplies to Student Development Coordinator Barry Congressi (mail code 8-1).
You can also follow Jennifer’s journey by following her Facebook page (all hurricane-related posts are public).