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Spring Break Plans? Cleveland Students Volunteer In Puerto Rico

A group of ten Cleveland students and educators will hit the skies Wednesday morning heading for the island of Puerto Rico.

The trip, which overlaps with the school district’s spring break, isn’t necessarily for fun. The group from Lincoln-West High School will be volunteering at a southern Puerto Rico elementary school and orphanage.

“In the elementary school, we’re going to create a mural for the community and also plant a [vegetable] garden there,” teacher and translator Awilda Morales said.

Morales has family on the island and says four students and two other adult volunteers do as well.

It’s common in the Clark Fulton neighborhood, Morales said, where Lincoln-West is situated.

The strong connection between the Hispanic community in the neighborhood and throughout greater Cleveland made fundraising easy, she said. Students sold t-shirts and Hispanic foods and held school dances to pay for the trip.

“The response that we have received is amazing actually because the community definitely sees that there is a need,” she said.

Six months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Morales said the Cleveland group will visit an area that is still without power and, in some places, water.

In addition to working in the buildings, they’ve also collected medical, educational and other supplies, like flashlights, batteries and fans, to leave with the school and orphanage they’ll visit.

Fourteen-year-old Lincoln-West freshman Isaiah Butchart said he’s both excited and nervous to take the trip. It’s his first time out of the continental U.S., he said, and his first flight.

He wants to tell local students about the Northeast Ohio community he lives in, but is hoping to bring something back too.

“[I want to] bring back more knowledge,” he said, of communities that are different from his own.

“I think that we have a lot of bad here, but I haven’t seen down there and they have it a lot [worse] than we have it,” he added.

Morales is hoping her students learn how to be problem solvers. She’s taking them to a community in need, she said, and hopes their work inspires the students to get involved at home.

“What can we do in our community back home? Since we’re already helping those in need in Puerto Rico, what can we do when we come back here in Cleveland, Ohio?” she said.

The group will spend seven days in Puerto Rico aiding in recovery efforts.

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