A visit from John and Frances Padilla of the Progreso Latino Fund, allied in the Gift Of Light Campaign
By Mary Ann Gabino | Senior Vicpresident – Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico
Last Thursday became one of those days that lifts the spirit and reminds me of the importance of our work. The day ahead involved picking up John and Frances Padilla, a couple with Puerto Rican roots based in Connecticut and participants of the Progreso Latino Fund, a donor-advised fund administered by the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven, a peer organization in the US.
After hurricanes Irma and María, Frances and John wanted to help Puerto Rico, a place dear to their hearts and where they still have family and friends. They set off to fund-raise with other members of the Progreso Latino Fund to support the solarization campaign for community health centers – The Gift of Light. This is an area of great interest to Frances as she works at a foundation that focuses on health public policy in Connecticut. Aside from visiting the health center that Progreso Latino Fund solarized, we wanted to take advantage of the trip to the mountain region and visit some other community project supported by Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico.
I picked them sharply at 8:30 am. The morning was very bright and sunny. John took on the role of helping with the GPS to follow the route to Aibonito. Between understanding the instructions of the GPS and talking about our current situation, our fractured systems, and mixing it with their childhood memories of Puerto Rico, time flew fast. Every now and then, we stopped to take a picture from the car: flamboyanes – native tree-, mountains, and even old structures. After almost two hours, we arrived to CAPI (Centro de Adiestramiento para Personas con Impedimentos). Ana, their executive director, received us with the warmth that only a community leader can transmit, enclosing gratefulness, compassion, hope, but above all, a joy empowered by the sense of pride for their accomplishments.
After Hurricane María, Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico awarded a grant to the institution for the purpose of installing a solar and storage infrastructure to pump the necessary water for their hydroponic project. More than five structures host lines of white tubes were in some of them the lettuce leaves are timidly showing their heads and in others, proud leaves are showing their full splendor. The hydroponic project is not only a social enterprise that generates income for the non-profit, but it’s also a place where students learn the routines associated with having a job. Over 500 students benefit from CAPI in more than 10 municipalities.
Her enthusiasm is contagious, especially when she tells us that the hydroponic project became possible more than 10 years ago with a grant from Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico and she stresses the yield of that grant. Their lettuce enterprise generates approximately $200,000 a year! And now they are experimenting with a passion fruit farm.
Ana talks about her experience and knowledge of more than 20 years in working with persons with disabilities and explains that her own son is legally blind, although self-sufficient. She needs a bigger space to continue their social enterprise as they need to improve the supply of their produce.
As we said goodbye, we headed to Aibonito’s town-center to have lunch. John and Frances had never been to Aibonito, an apparent economic blooming center where you can breathe fresh air and experience a sense of peace that simply enchants you. After lunch, we headed towards Naranjito, we were right in the middle of Puerto Rico’s mountain top. More pictures and some rain accompanied this part of the trip.
We arrived at Servicio Integral de la Montaña (SIM) a federally qualified community health center. It was so neat and bright. Everything seemed so organized. Their waiting room was very comfortable, you can hear a pin drop. This is a full-service health center with specialists like oncologists, nutritionists, gynecologists, dentists, psychologists, endocrinologists and others; and with a full-service emergency room. Patricia and Edna guided our tour.
Patricia, a very young woman with baby face skin and a contagious bubbly personality is the executive director, she knows everyone by name and it is a total dynamo explaining every aspect of the center. Edna is a nurse that has been with the corporation since the late ’80s. It was a joy to see the generational mix and the way they complemented their explanations and their stories. We went through all the departments, talked to almost all doctors about their current responsibilities and future plans.
There was a group of doctors receiving training on a program called HOPE, which seeks to identify patients with diabetes to implement a holistic approach that covers the physical, nutritional and psychological aspects of a wellness program. They will start in June… and I’m guessing, I will be back sometime next semester to see how it goes.
It had started to rain, and we were on the rooftop of the clinic. There they were… the solar panels granted to the center thanks to Progreso Latino Fund and The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven.
What a joy for John and Frances to see the product of their fundraising effort.
From there you could see a spectacular view of the town with colored houses sitting on the mountain top. We then headed to where the solar storage was located and took a peek at the three vaccines and medicine
refrigerators the solar infrastructure was supporting. As we were leaving we could only talk about the pride that Patricia and Edna showed throughout the tour, which was the same one present in every doctor,
nurse and the administrative person we came across to… passion and commitment is their guide.
As we headed to San Juan we could not stop talking about the gratifying experience we just had. We then talked about our families and personal experiences as a sign of a specially formed bond between us and a sign of a possible long-term friendship. As I left them in their apartment, nearly 6 pm, they had still an hour left before sunset, I urged them to have a nice seat at the beach to say goodbye to a wonderful day.
Thanks John and Frances… See you next time!