MIAMI – It’s easy to forget that before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the island was in dire economic straights. One of the organizations that realizes this the most is the 50-year-old Boys & Girls Club Puerto Rico.

Before Maria, 90% of the group’s participants—mainly youths ages six to 18—were below the poverty level on the island, according to President Olga Ramos.

“When you look at that, our participants are lacking the main resources and opportunities that other kids on the island or outside of the island have,” Ramos says in this interview with Beet.TV.

While Boys & Girls Club Puerto Rico mainly provides educational services, after the hurricane hit “we saw the need and knew that we had to do some things differently,” Ramos adds.

So the organization converted its centers to community centers to provide food, water, shelter and other primary needs.

“Right now because of the storm, most of our schools are closed. The ones that are open are providing immediate services. Breakfast and lunch and some sort of educational support,” she says.

Phase one of the group’s post-hurricane is to provide limited services from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., owing to the lack of electricity. “Our second phase will be to expand from eight to six so we can pretty much provide parents relief and they can go back to work while we take care of their kids with educational support.”

Ramos cites a financial gap of $8 million, $5 million of which is to continue providing whatever services the organization can and continue to pay employees. The other $3 million would be earmarked for an expansion of services—mostly meals and educational assistance. Some $2.5 million of the $8 million has been collected to date.

“Any contribution that we can get from private donors will be used toward our mission, which is to develop our kids and youths to their full potential,” Ramos says.

Boys & Girls Club Puerto Rico’s longer-term aim is to narrow the gap between its beneficiaries and youths whose families are better off financially.

“We are diversifying our offer so we are able to cater to what the island economy’s needs are, which are in tourism, health and technology and science.”

Stand With Puerto, The Industry Steps Up 

This video reports on the pressing issues facing Puerto Rico and the organizations that are having an impact. It is part of a media industry initiative titled Stand With Puerto Rico. It is organized by Beet.TV and Omnicom Media Group along with founding partners AT&T AdWorks and Teads. Please find additional videos from the series here. The series was recorded in Miami at the Festival of Media/LATAM on October 30. 

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