Revitalizing a Puerto Rican Community

Tracey Peterson

Air Force veteran Tracey Peterson reflects on helping a Puerto Rican community clean up a local park affected by Hurricane Maria.

“I’m upset that your first time seeing my home is after it has been destroyed,” a fellow Greyshirt said to me during my third day on the ground for Operation Coqui Calling. His name is Ramon, and he was born and grew up within five minutes of the site my team spent four days working on.

Since I arrived in Puerto Rico, I conducted chainsaw work at a local community park in San Juan. The neighborhood was on day 63 without power. Our mission was to clear out huge piles of tree branches and snagged limbs in the park.

On the first day in the park, we met Carlos, the president of the local homeowners’ association. He told us a little history of the park and offered us food and water. Over the course of the week, including Thanksgiving Day, my team and I worked across the entire park, clearing debris, dropping hanging limbs, and bucking/limbing slash piles.

When we were finally finished, Carlos insisted that we come over to his house for lunch. It would be rude to refuse, so we loaded our gear and took our sweaty selves over to this beautiful house for an amazing traditional Puerto Rican lunch on his patio.

During lunch, Carlos told us about life after Hurricane Maria and the impact that cleaning the park was having on the community. Due to our work, the park was able to host its first yoga class since the hurricane, children were able to play in the playground, and the neighborhood was able to fully utilize the facilities of the park. Our efforts motivated the local community to retake their park and see that even after a devastating disaster, there is a way to rebuild and there is a light in the darkness.

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