After Hurricane Maria leveled much of Puerto Rico, thousands of families went searching for a new home.
Ibero Action League of Rochester stood at the ready.
The group had been helping the local Latino community for decades and Hilda Rosario Escher had been there through much of the growth, but she’ll be stepping down as CEO this winter.
She sat down with Adam Chodak to talk about her work and her next step.
Adam: When you came over from Puerto Rico and you linked up with Ibero and you took on so many roles, were you trained for any of them?
Hilda: No, in not-of-profit you sink or swim and I’m a swimmer.
Adam: Where did the energy come from to do all this?
Hilda: I have a lot of faith. And I think I’ve been given a job to do and God gives me that energy.
Adam: I’m sure you had other non-profits in the Rochester community, why was Ibero so important?
Hilda: We know how to work with the Latino community with their culture. For example, someone comes into one of our offices and want to see counselor but along with that person comes the grandmother, comes the cousin and it’s OK, they can receive the counseling all at once.
Adam: Have you been able to have a work-life balance in your job?
Hilda: Never. This takes all of my time. So I end up having to look at my emails at 11, 12 o’clock at night and I’m fresh and energetic the next day.
Adam: What are you going to do when this is all over?
Hilda: I’m not going to sit down. I’ll continue doing something, I’m in the process of developing a company, for profit. And we’ll see where. I want to make a lot of money so I can buy houses for the poor.
Adam: Ibero was built up over decades so it was ready for what happened with Hurricane Maria…
Hilda: We decided it would be best to have everything in one place from registering for school, getting health insurance, for getting interviews for a job, getting a pediatrician, hospital so we opened a multi-agency welcoming center at 938 Clifford Avenue. The first day we were opening at 10 o’clock in the morning, I came in at 8 to make sure all the agencies had a table. When I got there there were so many people in line waiting without coats. It was freezing. So we opened the door and about 1,000 people came in, we were completely overwhelmed, but then we got the hang of it. The Rochester community did a great job, I think that we’re blessed because when there’s a problem like that just, the common people respond. We received 5, 10, 20 dollar donations. I just listen to the people. And then they keep calling me at the office. And then I just call them at the hotels just so they knew that they were not alone.
Adam: Do you and your staff realize that you likely saved people’s lives?
Hilda: It doesn’t matter that it was Puerto Ricans, if it was African-Americans, if it was Caucasians, and we had a disaster we would have done the same thing because it’s human beings and that is so important to me, I thrive on that. If I can prevent people from having a bad experience, improving their quality of life, that’s what I’m all about.