ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — It’s been five years since Hurricane Maria devastated parts of the Caribbean, specifically Puerto Rico.
The deadly, Category 5 hurricane made landfall in September of 2017 and left roughly 3-thousand people dead.
Diveth Garcia was living in Puerto Rico with her family at the time. Shortly after the storm hit, her life would change forever.
“Honestly the situation with Puerto Rico was really bad at that moment,” Garcia said. “I am a single mom, I have a son with special needs, so the situation was not good with no water and no electricity.”
Garcia said she was very concerned about her family. A friend of hers told her she should move to the U.S. because there were better resources for her son.
“Kids with special needs have better services than in Puerto Rico. I love Puerto Rico, but it’s the truth, so at that moment, I think it was the better decision for them,” Garcia said.
But the decision to leave Puerto Rico still wasn’t easy. When Garcia and her family got to Rochester, it was difficult.
“I was very sad, depressed, for not just for the situation in Puerto Rico, my situation here,” Garcia said. “At the beginning, I was trying to do something, but I was very depressed, so it took me a little bit time.”
Garcia said thankfully she was introduced to Ibero American Action League, a multi-service agency that uplifts, empowers and advocates for Latinos.
“They give me coats, helped me with the food stamps, the insurance for healthcare,” Garcia said. “I’m very grateful because I don’t know the city, I didn’t know the places, so it was good have everything in the same building.”
Ibero was the lead organization in Rochester during Hurricane Maria. With the help of other local organizations, they assisted five thousand people during the storm.
“The leadership of Ibero came together and provided a venue for individuals to come and receive whatever assistance they needed: connection to the school system, medical care, and many other needed services,” said Lucia Colindres-Vasquez, the Chief Program Officer with Ibero.
Ibero also helped connect families to mental health services, something Colindres-Vasquez said was very important.
“Imagine leaving your country unexpectedly… you didn’t plan it, it was just something that you did out of pure necessity. It’s not something that is easy to do, so it does impact you emotionally,” she said.
Over the past five years, Ibero has stayed committed to making sure families from Puerto Rico feel comfortable in Rochester.
“Being able to have like the La Marketa, La International Plaza and things like that, that makes people feel welcome and engaged,” Colindres-Vasquez said. “I left my country, but there’s things here where I feel welcomed.”
Ibero has played a big role in connecting new families to the community, getting them plugged in. Garcia, for example, currently holds a number of volunteer positions in Rochester.
“I’m the Vice President of the Bilingual Education Council (BEC) and right now I am at the Parent Advisory Council, participating with CPAC, that’s a group of parents with kids with special needs,” Garcia said. “I’m helping my community with other parents because I know it’s a tough process, difficult, so if I can help someone, I will do it.”
Garcia said she gives back today, because of the help she received five years ago when she arrived in Rochester. She wants to make sure every family knows there are resources and people who care.
“Many parents don’t know about this organization, but we are here for help them. So if they come here with open arms, we’re going to help them,” Garcia said. “We will help them stand up again and move forward.”
Garcia adds she’s still working on her English and other families may be too. She encourages people to ask for help and utilize local translators.
“You need to be brave. You need to have the resources you need and know what’s going on with your kids at school,” Garcia said. “Even if you don’t understand, we’re going to help you trying to find a translator.”
Ibero is now assisting families impacted by last month’s hurricane that hit Puerto Rico. You can support their efforts by clicking here.
You can read more of News 8’s Hispanic Heritage Month stories by clicking here.