Two Shawnee residents return to help Puerto Ricans in hurricane aftermath

Shawnee residents Jon Augustine, left, and Dave Williams are returning to Puerto Rico to help with hurricane recovery efforts. Photo courtesy of Dave Williams

Two Shawnee residents went to Puerto Rico last year to help locals recover in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes. After just a few weeks there, the two men saw that there’s still work to be done. This year, they’re going back.

Dave Williams and Jon Augustine will volunteer through All Hands & Hearts, a nonprofit organization that assists with rebuilding communities. Williams and Augustine plan to work mostly on repairing houses. Many of the homeowners have applied to receive help from the nonprofit because they are 65 years old or older, have some type of disability, or both.

Like their last trip, the Shawnee men said they will mostly help replace windows and doors, repair any cracks and eliminate mold. Most of their volunteer efforts over two weeks will occur in Yabucoa, a small city on the southeast side of Puerto Rico.

More work left to be done

Augustine and Williams made friends with other volunteers while they helped with hurricane recovery last year. Photo courtesy of Dave Williams

When the duo returned from their first trip in March 2018, All Hands & Hearts kept them current with updates about ongoing recovery efforts from hurricanes Irma and Maria. But even after a few weeks, they saw how much there is still left to do.

Williams said he learned that 60,000 houses still need to be repaired.

“We’re treating them like a red-headed stepchild, Puerto Rico,” he said. “They are Americans, and I don’t believe our federal government is really trying to help them. When I was down there before, I never saw one National Guard person. I never saw one FEMA person at all.

“These folks don’t have the wherewithal to get it done, (and) the government’s not helping them financially. The message still isn’t out there that these people need people’s help,” Williams said.

Hurricane damage on a house in Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of Dave Williams

While Augustine doesn’t have any roots in Puerto Rico, he feels drawn to the country and helping the locals.

“I don’t think the government’s done a very good job for these folks,” Augustine said, adding that he wants to have a better understanding of the locals’ situation.

Last year, many of their projects had involved initial response efforts, such as tree removal and roof repair, from the hurricane aftermath.

The pair had traveled together that time, but they will take separate trips this time around. Augustine left Tuesday and will return in two weeks — he also plans to volunteer again in Texas later this spring from Hurricane Harvey. Williams will visit Feb. 7-22.

“Once you’re there, it just does something to your heart,” Williams said. “You’ve just got to go back.”