Hurricane Maria is cited as the worst natural disaster on record to hit Puerto Rico. And half a year later, its impact isn’t ebbing. Thousands of U.S. citizens on the island remain without power. Clean water supplies are shrinking, and the economy is struggling to recover.
So it’s no surprise that people are, quite literally, moving on to find normalcy and safe refuge. What may come as more of a surprise is that many Puerto Rican evacuees are choosing Lancaster, Pennsylvania as their new home base.
While Lancaster may bring to mind Amish buggies and pastoral countryside, nearly 30 percent of the city’s population claims Puerto Rican ancestry, according to the 2010 census. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, evacuees have natural connections to help them rebuild their lives in Lancaster.
Our CWS Lancaster office is one of those connections. We are uniquely poised to serve these newcomers; our local office’s 30-year identity is formed around supporting families who have experienced the trauma of displacement. It’s a trauma that affects every aspect of life – when you lose everything, it truly takes a village to overcome each daily challenge.
As part of that village, we have partnered with Community Action Program and Spanish American Civic Association to more comprehensively address the daily needs of evacuees as they arise. Our key support for evacuees includes emergency housing and employment opportunities.
In the face of the most challenging of times for the U.S. refugee resettlement program, ironically it is precisely the model and expertise needed most for fellow Americans from Puerto Rico. Our team in Lancaster has been providing hope and home to the world’s most vulnerable of people for the past three decades, and we will continue to do so in the years to come.