Stories of Recovery – Puerto Rico Evacuees

In July, NYDIS’ Senior Caseworker, Boris, met with Ms. Cepeda in her home on Staten Island. Ms. Cepeda lived and worked in San Juan, Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria devastated the island. The storm caused severe damage to Ms. Cepeda’s home. Concerned for her health and safety without power and only limited access to food and medication, her daughters sent her a plane ticket to join them in New York. Upon arrival she stayed with one daughter and quickly began looking for a job: “I definitely wanted to be productive or take at least my mind out of… It was not easy. It’s not easy to just not have anything. You know? It’s painful because in Spanish culture it’s very hard for us to beg, or ask for, or accept help. We like to give.”

Ms. Cepeda had formerly lived in NYC and worked for the Department of Labor. When she spotted the NYC Department for the Aging (DFTA) office across from her daughter’s apartment, she knew her old employer would refer her there. DFTA ultimately did hire her, to teach computer skills to Spanish speaking elders. At work she found out about the NYC Hurricane Evacuee Service Center in East Harlem, and, adjacent, NYDIS’ Evacuee Marketplace. There she first met Boris and while hesitant to take much from the Marketplace, Boris urged her to take everything she needed, including a winter coat and clothing donated by Delivering Good. He also encouraged her to call NYDIS’ Evacuee Services hotline for housing assistance once she had located an apartment to rent.

After a few months, Ms. Cepeda was granted a Section 8 voucher and found an apartment on Staten Island. She contacted Boris, and through NYDIS’ Unmet Needs Roundtable was awarded a portion of her first month’s rent, the security deposit, a dining set, sofa, and a bedroom set, including a mattress – all through the generosity of The Salvation Army Greater New York Division.

Recently, Boris visited her new and furnished apartment, where she showed him a picture of her marching with NYDIS’ float in the 2019 National Puerto Rican Day Parade: “This is what I have as my screen saver, because you gave me the opportunity to march and say, ‘Thank you’, to the people of New York.”