In addition to hosting Lighthouse-sponsored volunteering opportunities for our employees through the Partners Give Back program, Lighthouse offers each full-time employee Volunteering Time Off, or VTO, to participate in nonprofit activities outside of work. Some employees go above and beyond that, and below is an example of one employee’s experience.
By Brittany Roush, Litigation Consultant at Lighthouse and Volunteer Disaster Relief Coordinator for Vieques
In 2013, after a particularly difficult year, my husband and I moved to Vieques, Puerto Rico – a beautiful, tiny island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Shortly after moving there, we started our own custom furniture business and built our home and community there. In fact, our daughter is named for the town we lived in. We have some family there, but the island community became our adopted family when we lived there and they’re still huge part of our life to this day.
Last Wednesday, Hurricane Maria hit Vieques at a CAT 5 hurricane and wiped out water, electricity, and all communication to the outside world, outside of a few sat phones. After Maria struck on Wednesday, I started working to provide information to an influx of panicked family members on the local Facebook page. At the same time, I wanted to think about how I could help long-term and connected with another woman on the island who was building a fund for long-term recovery needs and we started working together. From there, and I’m still not sure how it happened, it spiraled into organizing a dedicated relief effort to Vieques.
We felt that we had to use the funds that we were receiving to send help. To-date the Red Cross, FEMA, and the National Guard have not been able to get dedicated boots on the ground. Logistics of getting people to Vieques are already difficult, but it’s been compounded by the fact that San Juan International is damaged, ports were damaged and boats destroyed, and San Juan is mobbed with evacuees. So, we’ve taken matters into our own hands. We have raised over 300k to-date. On Monday, we flew a private plane directly into Vieques from Miami with 1000 pounds of supplies and evacuated a police officer with brain cancer and his family out. Starting tomorrow, we are running a plane into Vieques loaded with supplies every day ranging from generators and prescription medications to water and batteries. Companies, organizations, and community programs across the United States have come together in this massive wave of support and donated a literal warehouse of supplies, planes, boats, and so much to help our organization.
We’re not sure when the federal government will get relief to Vieques. Until they do, continued support for the Vieques community is critical. Kelly Thompson, the creator of the fund, has partnered us with the nonprofit COREFI to enable a proper auditing and non-profit structure around our fund, as well as give people the ability to deduct their taxes. In addition, the press has started to reach out to us. We were recently featured in the following articles/interviews: