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Centro Hispano Jose Hernandez, in collaboration with the city of York and York County School of Technology, kicks off its Puerto Rico se levanta, 21 Days of Giving for Puerto Rico fundraising campaign.

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Delma Rivera wakes up every morning waiting for the day she can visit Puerto Rico.

After the U.S. island was ravaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria in the fall, Rivera constantly worried about the aunts, uncles, cousins and friends she had there.

One of the commissioners for the Pennsylvania Commission on Latino Affairs, she has been doing what she can locally to assist Puerto Ricans in need. 

The commission, also known as the Governor's Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs, organized traveling resource fairs throughout the state to help connect those displaced from the disaster and is planning to organize one for York County.

But Rivera knew she wanted to make her own trip to Puerto Rico to help relief efforts.

"It's something I had to do," she said.

Rivera will travel to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, Jan. 30, and stay for three weeks to coordinate relief efforts with Veteran Disaster Relief, bringing about $10,000 of financial aid.

More: EDITORIAL: Help your fellow citizens rise in Puerto Rico

Veteran Disaster Relief: Worried about her family, Rivera had followed many groups involved in relief efforts since the hurricanes, and one man's story struck a chord. 

She saw a YouTube video of Jason Maddy, a veteran from South Carolina who was traveling into dangerous areas on the island to provide relief. A group of veterans had banded together after the hurricanes, upset about the living conditions of the more than 100,000 veterans on the island, and decided to find and help them, Rivera said.

She contacted the group's volunteer coordinator to find out how she could work with them.

Veteran Disaster Relief was seeking volunteers connected to the island who were familiar with the areas and could serve as interpreters — a perfect fit for Rivera.

The group has made assessments of a few families in need in Utuado, one of the more devastated areas on the island, and Rivera is thankful that she will be able to help make a difference for them.

Donations: Rivera gathered donations throughout York County.

She received donations from First Presbyterian Church of York, Central York Middle School — where she serves as the diversity education specialist — and the Puerto Rico relief drive organized by Centro Hispano Jose Hernandez, in collaboration with the York County School of Technology, for York City's 21 Days of Giving project.

More: 21 Days of Giving for Puerto Rico

The York County Federation of Democratic Women, of which Rivera is a member, also surprised her with $300 in donations.

Rivera said she is overwhelmed by the response she's seen in the county.

"I think people have been very touched by this humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico," she said, and she imagines it's hard for them to believe that after all these months people still don’t have necessities or roofs on their homes and some schools are still closed.

Home base: Her home base while she's in Puerto Rico will be her house in Aguadilla, on the northwest corner of the island — a home that is special to her because she inherited it from her grandmother.

Rivera said she is fortunate because her home sustained minimal damage from the hurricanes.

Aquadilla still endures sporadic power outages, she said, which, after three to four months without power, is discouraging to residents.

Sister city: Rivera's relief effort opened the door for a partnership opportunity with York City.

Mayor Michael Helfrich plans to present Rivera with the key to the city Monday, Jan. 29, and a proclamation to hand to the mayor of Aguadilla to become a sister city of York.

"I’m very, very happy about this connection," Rivera said.

"It was something that we had talked about," she said. Helfrich "had been so supportive of all of our relief efforts."

Rivera is grateful to have more than one connection to York City for her trip.

Her mother's family is still in Puerto Rico, and her mother used to teach at a school there before she and Rivera's father moved to York City.

More: Puerto Rican students migrating to York City after storms

"I had always wondered about my mom’s school," Rivera said. "This just came up in conversation, and my students thought, 'Ms. Delma, this will be a great idea.'"

The students raised $500 through the Aevidum club, Rivera said, to donate to her mother's school, The Manuel Gonzalez Melo School, also known as La Escuela de Calvache.

Aevidum, a national club whose name means "I've got your back," has more than 200 organizations around the country and focuses on a positive environment in school and awareness about mental health issues and suicide.

It's the first year for the club at Central York Middle School, and the Puerto Rico fund is its first fundraising project.

"I’m overwhelmed (by) the support of the community and all these connections that are being made," Rivera said.

She will be wearing her father's Army dog tags — he was a veteran of the Korean War — which her aunt found two years ago, as a tribute to him and the other veterans she'll be helping. 

More: Experts: Puerto Rico might struggle for more than a decade

Community service: Rivera said community service is in her blood.

When her parents, Dr. Edwin Rivera and Delma Rivera, moved to York City in the 1960s, they both became active in the community.

Her father was the first Hispanic physician in York City, and both he and her mother founded the Spanish American Center of York (now the Centro Hispano Jose Hernandez of York.) Her mother was on every board in York County, Rivera said — organizations such as the Salvation Army and United Way.

"My parents did so much for the Latino community," she said.

If they were still around, Rivera said, "I know that they would be doing what I'm doing right now."

 

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