By Jonathan Dobson
Special to The SUN
My companero on the project, Doug Large, and I are home now, after having fulfilled our mission in Puerto Rico.
We have the Pagosa community to thank, the Pagosa Mountain Rotary most of all, who did everything to make our effort, which we called “The San Juans for San Juan” a success, sticking it out through the challenges of fundraising to make possible the accomplishment of something truly remarkable. We put in a very stout little off-grid solar system for an assisted living center in Utuado, Puerto Rico, called Institucion San Martin de Porres, a large, concrete, single-story building perched up on a hill in the neighborhood of Roncador.
Originally, our fundraiser had been in the name of an elementary school. My contact at that school, after some red tape got in the way, very late in the pursuit of this initiative, taking great care knowing we had something special to deliver, set us up immediately with an alternative and we switched gears on the fly. It was a little scary at first, but we trusted, and my contact, my friend, Nelson, delivered us to San Martin.
As soon as we arrived, it became obvious that we had a very deserving prospect on our hands, and we got straight to work the next day. The people of San Martin were such wonderful people to work for, and so thankful for what we were giving them, that I leave the experience, and I think Large would agree with me that he feels this way, too, honestly wondering who it was that got the most out of it, us or them.
And that’s saying a lot, considering what we delivered there to San Martin, courtesy of this community. The assisted living center itself, which functions all day every day taking care of 38 residents, all of whom are at the end of very long lives, unable to care for themselves, went without dependable power for six months after Hurricane Maria. There was a beat-up old generator at the facility that was used intermittently during this time, but as anyone in Puerto Rico will tell you, during that period of six months after Maria had paid her visit, and far more than that for others, gasoline was very difficult to obtain. What the nine-panel, eight-battery system, that includes a 3,600-watt inverter, means to the staff of eight nurses (singing as they work, always laughing in the hallways), the overseer, Rey, who was figurative in making everything smooth for us and in whose hands the system will be well kept, and the very fine woman la dona Nary, Luz Nereida Ruiz, who lives adjacent to and manages San Martin, is secure. It means that prayers are not futile. It means that if there is another storm (talk to anyone in Puerto Rico, you will not find much optimism that nature will not be testing the island again soon), this very wonderful place, San Martin, full of devoted people, will not have to worry that the day after might again last as long as six months. Important machinery requiring electricity to run, like CPAPs or dialysis machines, can resume dependably. They will be able to play Ricky Martin in the hallways and get the kitchen going properly. Were a fearsome storm scenario to play out again, San Martin de Porres will most certainly be remembering what some people from Pagosa Springs did. Not only what they gave, but why.
It was a long process raising the $14,000 or so that brought this project to completion. Many from our community got behind the project, and, along with numerous other Rotary groups in the San Juan Mountain region who pushed us out of our winter coats and out of our doubts, we reached our goal in the knick of time, having fixed our departure date for late March. I have a long list of people who came through enormously. Most of all, I want to thank Karen Goodwin, who made a large donation, and to whom, in my heart, along with the people we did the work for in Utuado, this project is dedicated. Friends, customers, businesses around town donated to the fundraiser we held last autumn.
It had always seemed to us like an effort that would potentially do as much for a community in Puerto Rico as it could for some of us. Those of us who contributed in encouragement or with money proved to me that this could happen. Of all the things we can do to combat climate change, helping each other, reaching out, instead of creating false narratives of blame for grief, makes the biggest difference, as far as I’m concerned. I’ll take something from the heart over a technological remedy any day. Thank you very much, Archuleta County, for making The San Juans for San Juan possible. It was an honor for us to be a part along with you who are reading this now, possibly being inspired to contribute something novel to the world yourself. You, actually, might be the most important part of all.