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Students on a 2018 service trip to Puerto Rico.

This December, nine Olivet College students are traveling to Yabucoa, Puerto Rico to repair homes damaged during Hurricane Maria. This marks the fourth time OC students have performed community service in Puerto Rico in the last year and a half.

“Yabucoa was one of the first areas hit by Hurricane Maria in 2016, and it received one of the highest levels of destruction,” said Jacob Richards ’18, community service coordinator and director of the Difference Maker program. “While the area does have power restored now after quite a long time, black mold continues to be a lasting issue.”

Homes in Puerto Rico regularly have concrete roofs, which are easily cracked or broken in hurricane conditions. While the roofs stay intact to the foundation, the cracks allow for water to seep into the home, resulting in mold. Respiratory illnesses are often caused by the mold, but without other options, residents remain in their homes.

“We’ll be working with the organization All Hands and Hearts in Puerto Rico,” Jacob said. “We’ll be able to repair several homes during our week of service, alongside individuals and groups from all over the country and sometimes world. The work is a two-step process. First, we must peal back the sealant on the roof to expose the cracks, patch the cracks and replace the sealant. Then, we must remove the mold on the inside of the home while being fully protected in Tybek suits with respirator masks.”

Despite the uncomfortable and potentially hazardous conditions, junior Morgan Greenman is just one of the students who jumped at the chance to serve in Puerto Rico.

“Service is important to me because I get such a fulfilling feeling when I’m able to help others, especially in their time of hurt,” Morgan said. “A little service can go a long way in someone’s life. I really wanted to attend the Puerto Rico service trip to help a less fortunate country in an area of a disaster.”

Students on a 2018 service trip to Puerto Rico.

In order to help make the trip affordable to students like Morgan, Jacob even applied for a grant through the United Church of Christ. While All Hands and Hearts provides students with meals and housing, students are responsible for the cost of their travel.

“I learned about the grant program just five days before applications were due, and I don’t have a background in grant writing,” Jacob said. “To my surprise, we received the full funding I requested — it is a blessing for this trip.

“Puerto Rico is technically part of the United States, but you wouldn’t know it going there. Students get to experience a different culture through the eyes of real people. It opens their eyes to the real world, and real people in real need.”

In addition to the service aspect, students will explore the history and nature of Puerto Rico. The trip ends with a day in the historical downtown area of San Juan and a visit to El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Park system.

Learn more about Olivet College by contacting the Office of Admissions at 800-456-7189 or admissions@olivetcollege.edu.

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