When drivers from Estes trucking arrived in Puerto Rico, little did they know the disaster would change their lives. As if delivering life-saving commodities to devastated communities wasn’t hard enough, the team came face to face with a totally unexpected challenge: bringing hope and a sense of normality to displaced children.
After witnessing the destruction left by Hurricane María, something inspired the crewmembers to go beyond their logistics assignments. Asking around for additional ways to help survivors, they learned that several children’shomes were in need of construction repairs. The plan was simple: obtain support from the company and dedicate much of their free time to accomplishing the mission.
Truckers from around the United States joined forces to attend to the needs of two faith-based nonprofit organizations: Hogar Infantil Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús in Arecibo (for children aged 3-7) and Hogar Escuela Sor María Rafaela in Bayamón (for girls aged 8-18).
“All the guys want to come to the home” said Matt Niemaseck from Richmond, VA, leader of the Arecibo team. “We spend all of our days off working at the home. We painted, repaired the fence, power-washed the toys, collected all debris, and now we are building a playhouse. But there is a lot more to get done.”
During our conversation, the crew took the opportunity to tease teammate Alan Frick for the three days that it took him to repair the home’s hydraulic door, but what really matters is that his heart is in the right place. Frick just smiled, ignoring the jokes, and showed me a photo of “Cayey,” a stray dog he rescued from the streets and will take back to his home in Chicago.
“They usually start at 6 a.m., even in the rain, and we are very thankful,” said Melva Arbelo, director of Hogar Infantil Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús. “The support has been really strong and necessary. We are a few, women only, and these hands have been a blessing. The children are fascinated by them. They are now part of our family.”
One hour’s drive away in Bayamón, another Estes crew led by Steve White from Seattle, WA, is rebuilding a roof on a gazebo at Hogar Escuela Sor María Rafaela. Their commitment is evident in every careful step of the task. “A lot of the guys saw the damage and destruction and wanted to do something about it,” said White. “Some of them have construction backgrounds and have helped address the major issues.”
Sister Nélida (Nelly) González, director of the home, had nothing but kind words about the men who are making a difference. “We are delighted. They have been a magnificent team.”As part of their contribution, the crew donated a brand new washer, dryer, freezer and two televisions; they also built a new roof for the laundry and two other outdoor areas and cleared the debris.
“We didn’t have money to pay for all that,” said Sister Nelly. “The girls are motivated to learn English because they have seen the need to speak the language. The drivers didn’t even know how to say ‘thank you’ in Spanish, and now they are learning too.”
A pickup truck honked its horn as it arrived to the home. Smiling like children, the men helped unload brand new bicycles purchased with their personal donations — a surprise the children will discover when they get back from school. Another action that speaks so much louder than words
The drivers said this is the first time they have felt inspired to do community work. However, they all agree it won’t be the last. Although the effort can be quantified as more than 40 workers giving around 6,400 hours of their own time — funded by a corporate donation of $20,000 for supplies and over $4,000 in personal contributions — the joy is incalculable.
Children’s laughs, the gratitude of those who work at the two homes, and the immense satisfaction of leaving an indelible footprint on so many lives will be a constant reminder that every disaster brings opportunities to renew your faith in humanity.