CRAFTING WELLNESS STORY
An island, its people, and a man in the pursuit of a brighter future. A story that sheds light on resilience, and how we can always get back up, no matter how many times we’re knocked down. Whether in the ICU as a Nurse, in his community as a Pastor, or throughout the island as a responder to any crisis, José Garcia has dedicated his life to serving others and his home, Puerto Rico.
To get involved and support, visit https://www.houseofmercyserve.org/
A Crafting Wellness Film by Scott Salas
Still photography by Jamie Colette @colettepark
Drone footage by Chase Walker @dronerincon
Rafi Levy - Understanding Happiness
Vendla - Infinite Love
Marija Agic performing Romanza
Low Light - Undertow
Bottega Baltazar - Rosario
In life, we're going to face challenges. The secret is learning to be content, whatever your situation is, because some of the biggest lessons that we learn in life are through moments of conflict and strife, and in trials, storms. It all leads to one thing, that fulfillment of a calling or a purpose, and serving others is precisely that. I think if we don't understand that, then we're really not part of the world that we live in.
House of Mercy is an organization that exists to help struggling families in our community, and when something extraordinary as a natural disaster were to occur, we're there to serve not only the physical, but also the emotional and spiritual needs of that community.
At first, it's not easy to link one thing to the other, because you're simply just seeing the present. If you were to ask me, is this where you saw yourself maybe 20 years ago, or 15 years ago, my response would be no- in no way. I never thought I would be leading a church or a crisis center, I never would have seen this. In fact, I would have thought that I wasn't capable of doing all of that.
Once I graduated from college with a degree in nursing, I worked for a hospital in Mayaguez for five years as an intensive care unit nurse. I think I chose nursing because it was the best example of what serving actually looks like. I think nurses have always been underpaid for the services they render, and one would ask why would anyone want to put their lives at risk, especially now with the covid 19 pandemic, for so little? I think the answer to that is that we all have a heart to serve, and to help anyone who is in need. In in the nurses cases, it's physical, and it's also emotional, because you're taught how to how to serve not only in a medical clinical setting, but also how to serve in a psychological setting.
This eventually nurtured my work today in House of mercy, because it's given me an idea of what exactly do they need. How can we be more efficient in the work that we do? I can say that every circumstance in my life, and the process of all that coming together, I can see the bigger picture. I can see how this was all leading to where I am today, and that includes the harsh, the difficult, because sometimes it's the most difficult and the most heartbreaking situations that really give you that last push in the right direction.
House of Mercy was born a couple of years before Hurricane Maria. I noticed that there were many families that were leaving because of the financial situation on the island during that time. As a parent of a middle class family myself, we were struggling also to survive in the midst of that massive exodus of people who left the island and I was led to do something to help these struggling, middle class, low income families and possibly postpone or delay or maybe even completely cancel the possibility of leaving the island.
We began by handing out bags of groceries to 25 families, we slowly were able to increase that from 50 to 100, from 100 to 300. It was then when we were going to set up at our location which was given to us, and just when we were just about ready to start moving in Maria hits, and to our surprise, a gigantic tree completely crushed and destroyed the building that we were going to occupy for the crisis center. You have to keep in mind that all of this occurred within the setting of chaos, destruction- there was no power anywhere on the island. There was no water service anywhere on the island. Food was extremely limited. There was no phone service anywhere on the island, we had no idea, we were completely cut off. But none of that stopped us from doing what we needed to do. We didn't use that as an excuse.
In the very beginning, we determined that with the little resources we had, we were going to respond to a need. It was urgent, it was the right thing to do. We began working in a kitchen that had no power and was mostly dark. We had a team that would show up every day, we'd turn on our stoves and with whatever items we had on the shelves, we would prepare lunch for a community. I remember people running out of their apartments and homes with tears in their eyes, because according to them, we were the first to arrive with help. This was two weeks after Maria hit, which came to a surprise because we thought we were late, but we were the first to arrive. We were received with hugs, kisses, and appreciation, and people were asking how they could help. We began to receive donations on a regular basis, the supplies just started to come in immediately. We just kept serving, and the more we gave out, the more we received.
What we do is something we can't do on our own. We have the heart, we have the vision, but in order to get the mission done we need teamwork. Whether it was Red Cross, a Church from the States, or it was a friend or church members, someone would always provide with what was needed either for the next day or the next days or the next week. It was very motivational to work in these communities. It really touched you to see the hospitality, the love of the people that in spite of the fact that they had so little, they were always willing to share whatever little they had.
I remember visiting a home in which we were there to serve and to help an old woman. She looked at me and said, "Would you like a cup of coffee?", and when I looked at her kitchen, it was quite obvious that that was barely all she had. She was willing to offer that last cup of coffee. That love and that hospitality is what actually characterizes our culture and our people. That in the midst of their circumstances, they see beyond their need and they continue to show that love and hospitality towards others. I think it's in our DNA. We're programmed to see every person as family, and that we're obligated to be there for them when they need us. In our culture, that resiliency is a result of the many circumstances and situations that we as a nation have actually lived and been through.
We've heard stories of our great great grandparents, they knew what a category three or four hurricane was. They knew what a 7.5 earthquake looked like, and in their cases, when a natural disaster of this sort would strike the island, it was inevitable, you were going to lose everything. They did not have the help that we have today from our governments and other organizations, there was no such thing, but they made no excuses and simply did what had to be done and restarted from scratch. This is what they taught their descendants, and this is what they passed on from one generation to another generation. I think we still have that in our DNA. I think that hasn't been completely washed out or disappeared, it hasn't completely vanished. I think that resiliency still lives in us, and we've learned to value what we have, because we know that what we have today has has come to us as a result of hard work and sacrifice. We value what we have, and if we're brought down, we get up again. If we suffer destruction, we rebuild. So right now, that's, I would say that would be our next step.
We want our participants in our community to learn a trade in which they can make their own money and they can also grow their own food source. This is a project that we need to get off his feet. It's our family garden. This is hydroponics, aquaponics system, and we think that the sooner we get that running, I think we'll be able to help on a different level. I think nurturing more of the agriculture on the island, creating more job opportunities, is essential. it's inspirational to see that there's a good chunk of this new generation that saying, "I'm not leaving, I want to stay.", even though they know it's not going to be easy. They insist on staying and investing in what they consider their home.
WELCOME TO THE NEW SCHOOL.
BE THE CAUSE
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