Nantucketers follow through with their commitment to Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Maria killed nearly as many people as the September 11th attacks. To date, the official death toll in Puerto Rico is 2,975 people—twenty-one fewer than 9/11—but that number continues to climb. Although the category five hurricane has long since passed, the repercussions of its devastating wrath continue to rock the island now more than a year since the storm made landfall. And yet with the breakneck speed of today’s news cycle, many forget that Puerto Rico—a territory of the United States—is still clawing its way back to some semblance of normalcy.
One person who has not forgotten is Nantucket resident and Puerto Rican native, Carlos Castrello. In February, Castrello’s nonprofit Nantucket Cares returned to the Caribbean island with fourteen Nantucket High School students dedicated to the rebuilding effort and bearing the message that Puerto Rico will not be forgotten.
While others might have gone on ski vacations or to beach resorts with their families, these students spent their winter break visiting three of the most devastated areas of Puerto Rico. They met Puerto Rican students their age and got their hands dirty, helping them piece their school campuses back together. The trip marked the third mission of Nantucket Cares, which Castrello founded in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Through donations made by generous Nantucket residents, Castrello and his team have focused their campaign on helping children and their schools.
More than a year after the hurricane, Puerto Rican schools still had leaky roofs, entire libraries filled with ruined books, computer rooms with no computers, and playgrounds where jungle gyms were turned into masses of twisted metal. Castrello and his team purchased computers, printers, sports equipment and books, which students of Nantucket High School’s Interact Club volunteered to help him deliver to the island. To fund the high school students’ travel and room and board, the students of Nantucket Intermediate School raised $13,000 and the Rotary Club of Nantucket made a $10,000 matching gift.
On the first day, the students visited a science and math school in one of the most gravely impacted towns, Guayama. “We were greeted like royalty,” Castrello says, recalling the welcome ceremony led by Senator Cirilo Tirado Rivera and complete with traditionally dressed dancers and musicians performing in the exact location where the eye of the hurricane made landfall.
The students then visited a middle school in the town of Loíza, one of the poorest municipalities on the island, where they handed out computer equipment and sporting goods such as baseballs, basketballs and volleyballs. On their final stop, the group visited an elementary school in the town of Río Grande where they cleaned up the school grounds and planted a flower garden.
“We built something together that hopefully will show them that we care and that they’re not alone,” Castrello said. “Some of the kids from Nantucket had never worked with their hands before, but they worked so hard and did an amazing job.” And with that, the seeds of new friendships and perspectives were also sewn in the students. Returning to Nantucket, they had a greater appreciation for their own island community and the importance of caring for one another, especially when no one is watching.