Delegation to Puerto Rico Promotes Sustainability, Efficiency and Collaboration

The Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago Continues Rebuilding Puerto Rico, 9 months after Hurricanes María and Irma.

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By Puerto Rican Agenda

Members of the Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago (The Agenda), have returned from a two-day summit in Puerto Rico during the week of May 15– 23, 2018. The delegation included a team of housing manufacturers, developers, planners, scholars, engineers and community economic development professionals. Participants joined a Strategy Summit, planned and coordinated by The Agenda and the Municipality of Comerío, with the goal of exploring opportunities to identify partnerships for building the most energy efficient and hurricane proof model homes as part of The Agenda’s Relief, Rescue, and Rebuild Puerto Rico campaign (3R’s4PR); as well as identifying critical needs for the upcoming hurricane season.

Members of the delegation included:

Paul Roldán, CEO, Hispanic Housing Development Corporation;

Charlie Serrano, CEO, Antilles Strategy Group;

Carlos Jiménez, Film Maker, Kachi/Caney Films Publishing;

José E. López, Executive Director, PRCC;

Pablo Medina, Puerto Rican Agenda;

Dr. Frank Flury, Professor of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology;

James Tinjum, Professor of Engineering at University of Wisconsin-Madison;

Dr. Yarimar Bonilla, Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers University;

Marty Cerny, Director of Business Development;

Wayne Klein, Sr., co-owner Klein Construction,

Paul Marinescu, co-owner Thermasteel, Inc.

The Agenda concluded its Pallets and Planes campaign and commenced the 3R’s4PR campaign earlier this year with the goal of developing economically sustainable projects for the rebuilding of Puerto Rico with local Puerto Rican leadership. The Agenda’s activities continue to include providing grants to local non-for-profit organizations and identifying economic development and sustainability projects that will create jobs and make use of the island’s natural resources.

The Agenda’s priorities are to develop sustainable agriculture projects and create self-sufficiency in the island. Furthermore, The Agenda seeks to promote long-term solutions, directly impact the need to increase small businesses, and stimulate local participation in the island’s economy.

In February 2018, The Chicago Community Trust awarded a $100,000 grant to support The Agenda’s track record of employing immediate, meaningful, and transparent strategies resulting in micro-grants for emergency supplies, solar panels, generators, medicine, and construction materials in 35 towns on the Island.A portion of the grant will seed the Adoptemos un  Pueblo project under the umbrella of the 3R’s4PR campaign. The mountainous town of Comerío and coastal town of Loíza, have been selected for deeper investments because they represent two hard hit towns on the island. The Strategy Summit last week began the planning for sustainable construction and community-led rebuilding brigades and efforts.

The Summit was able to articulate an on-going vision, which includes the following:

• The retrofitting of an existing community center in Juncia Sector of Barrio Río Hondo in Comerío, which will serve more than 700 people in that community. In the event of another hurricane it will provide a communal kitchen space with all amenities, a communal laundromat, shower
s and bathroom services, portable water as well as a gathering space. The center will be retrofitted with appliances, showers, toilets, sinks, washer & dryer machines, running water and energy system.
• The construction of a home for a family in Comerío who still do not have electricity or water. The home will be built with Thermasteel materials based on a new housing technology using material that is hurricane resistant (withstands winds of over 200 miles per hour and earthquakes up to 9.0 on the Richter scale) and easily assembled.
• The possible opening of a factory in Comerío to manufacture Thermasteel panels for the Island and the Caribbean, which could employ about 100 workers  in an abandoned manufacturing plant in Comerío.
• The possible development of an eco-tourism area extending from the historic dam of Río de la Plata to the Media Luna Hotel in Comerío.
• The building of a community structure in Loíza, by architectural students from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) under the guidance of Professor Frank Flury; students will be working in Loíza for five consecutive weeks; the students have raised all funds to cover project costs.
• The implementation of a solar installation project in HogarAlbergue para Niños Jesús de Nazareth in Mayagüez by a group of engineering students led by Professor James Tinjum of the University of Wisconsin-Madison at a cost of $150,000, of which the students have raised $90,000.  To donate to to this solar energy project please visit www.ewbuw.org or contact ewb.wisc@gmail.com.

Part of the delegation was also able to visit and explore possibilities of partnerships with the ecological efforts being undertaken in the area of the San Juan Estuary where eight rivers end and join with the ocean.  The 18 mile long ecosystem lives a long history of community engagement as well as government abandonment.  Also, a visit to the Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Diseño de Puerto Rico (EAPD), and a follow up meeting with Ileana Muñoz, Chancellor of the EAPD to continue discussions between The Agenda and this institution which is housed in a 500 yearold structure in front of the historic landmark of El Morro fort.  Additionally, a meeting was held with a group of Puerto Rican Veterans who have created an organic based agricultural cooperative for the island’s over 300,000 veterans.

The above dates of intense work marked a new level of the Agenda’s engagement with Puerto Rico.

As part of the continuing work of The Agenda with the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the City of Chicago will host a series of events in the following weeks that will include visits to the City by San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, the Mayor of Comerío, Josian Santiago and the Mayor of Loíza, Julia Nazario.

BACKGROUND: The Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago was the first organization of the Puerto Rican Diaspora to land an airplane filled with emergency cargo to the island, and to have that same plane return with 300 people stranded in the airport on the island. Since Hurricane Maria, The Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago has raised over $400,000 and directed funds for aid and micro-grants to over 35 municipalities and organizations in Puerto Rico. This grassroots all-volunteer effort has been bolstered by the intervention of Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, United Airlines CEO Oscar Muñoz, and Governor Bruce Rauner.

The Puerto Rican Agenda is non-profit organization of local Puerto Rican leaders that influences policy for the advancement of the Puerto Rican community in Chicago. Over the past two decades, the Agenda continues to develop and execute a community-driven vision for the Humboldt Park Area, where most Puerto Ricans in Chicago live, and Paseo Boricua, a business and entertainment district on Division Street between California and Western.

Additionally, the Agenda has worked closely with the City of Chicago of Office of Emergency Management and Communication and 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado to establish the first full-service Hurricane Resource Center in Humboldt Park through May 1, 2018. To date over 2,000 evacuees from Puerto Rico have been connected to local, state, and federal resources. For over 100 years, The Chicago Community Trust, our region’s community foundation, has connected the generosity of donors with community needs by making grants to nonprofit organizations working to improve metropolitan Chicago. Since 1915, the Trust has awarded over $2 billion in grant funding to more than 11,000 local nonprofit organizations -including more than $236 million in 2016. From strengthening schools to assisting local art programs, from building health centers to protecting the safety net for those hardest hit by the recession, the Trust continues to enhance our region. To learn more, please visit The Trust online at www.cct.org.