Tears. Hugs. Smiles.
Those were the emotions swirling on a crowded street outside a home in the Villa Palmeras, Santurce neighborhood of San Juan earlier this month.
It wasn’t just any home, however. It was the home of Ms. Sunchy, who along with her three grandchildren had been displaced for nearly 18 months since Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico.
Sunchy was welcomed home at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the steps of her newly renovated home, thanks to the generosity of a nonprofit called SBP. She embraced the familiar faces with cuddles, laughs and handshakes.
“What happened here today is with support from groups like the Mylan Charitable Foundation, is that Ms. Sunchy is finally able to move back home,” said SBP Co-Founder and CEO Zack Rosenburg. “Sunchy is the heart and soul of this block, and this proud community is ready to be reunited with she and her grandchildren.”
For more than 50 years, Sunchy called this small, one floor house her home. But after back-to-back hurricanes, her roof and walls buckled with the storms’ relentless wind and rain. With catastrophic damage done, she was forced to relocate until critical and costly repairs were made. In fact, her journey home took much longer than anticipated because of the extreme damages sustained and the paralysis on the island.
Yet, on this March afternoon, the memories of howling winds, flooded rooms, damaged rooftops and scattered debris have been set aside. The calm, warm sun illuminates the street filled with friends, neighbors, volunteers and special guests who gathered to honor one of their own.
Sunchy was the first client in Puerto Rico for St. Bernard Project (SBP), a leading national disaster-recovery nonprofit organization formed in 2006 following Hurricane Katrina. Last fall, Sister Eusebia from the Centro Pastoral of the Universidad del Sagrado recommended Sunchy as the perfect candidate, despite having first denied the assistance from SBP, selflessly suggesting someone else needed it more.
Similarly, a perfect match existed with the ongoing relationship between SBP and Mylan, who share common passions of fueling community and building purpose in the face of adversity. They first came together in 2016, when Mylan and the Mylan Charitable Foundation (MCF) contributed $1 million to SBP to rebuild homes and lives in southern West Virginia impacted by devastating floods.
“What SBP has created is nothing short of remarkable,” said Marcie McClintic Coates, Mylan’s Head of Global Policy, who first discovered SBP and today maintains Mylan’s relationship with them. “They immediately came to mind when we wanted to find a way to continue to help the people of Puerto Rico in a broad, long-ranging way.”
At Sunchy’s homecoming, McClintic announced MCF’s $1 million pledge to help SBP establish operations in Puerto Rico to assist families across the island to return home. SBP’s goal is to rebuild and repair of at least 100 homes by the end of 2019.
Mylan has a long-established commitment to the people of Puerto Rico, having run pharmaceutical manufacturing on the island since 1987. Giving back to the communities where Mylan’s employees live and work is important and not just when disaster strikes, but also during the long time it takes to rebuild and truly recover.
Mylan’s commitment to Puerto Rico was put on display earlier in the day when two groups of Mylan Caguas employees took part in renovation projects with SBP clients in Loíza, a town on the northeastern coast.
“It was great to see our Mylan colleagues working alongside SBP and AmeriCorps team members,” added McClintic Coates. “Whether it was tearing down a kitchen or painting a new room and adding trim, I saw a lot of hard work being done.
“You could see the pride in giving back and I know our Mylan family looks forward to being involved again in the near future.”
With the Foundation’s promise to help, SBP took immediate action by deploying teams on the island in the areas most severely impacted by the storm. To expand the group’s reach and help as many people as possible, SBP utilizes and shares best practices and places AmeriCorps members with other nonprofit organizations to help.
“AmeriCorps is the engine of disaster recovery, whether it’s with SBP or other groups. Their assistance makes disaster recovery possible and effective,” explained Rosenburg. “For us, they play incredibly important roles, from volunteer coordinators to construction resource acquisition people to site supervisors, who led more than 100 volunteers in rebuilding Sunchy's home.”
“This approach means more and more families will share that welcome home excitement that Sunchy and her grandkids felt,” said McClintic Coates.
And despite the lives that have been altered by the storms, Puerto Ricans remain strong and proud. That was evident in remarks made at the ribbon cutting by Puerto Rico Central Office of Recovery and Reconstruction's Omar J. Marrero, Esq.
“We were very fortunate to have Omar Marrero take time out of his busy schedule to join us. You could hear the passion in his voice and the urgency to help get Puerto Ricans back in their homes who are still suffering,” said McClintic Coates. “This is a great example of private and public partnership at work. Here we have the Mylan Charitable Foundation partnering with nonprofits like SBP, AmeriCorps, the Ricky Martin Foundation and government officials like Omar Marrero who are all working tirelessly to shrink the time between disaster and recovery for those impacted.”
And that’s exactly the goal of SBP. With each passing day, progress is being made in Puerto Rico to replace the darkness from Hurricane Maria with tears of happiness, hugs and smiles.
“We stand with Puerto Rico and will be here as long as it takes,” said Rosenberg. “Yes, we’ve all experienced times when it feels very overwhelming, but seeing people like Sunchy come home makes it all worthwhile.”