RCAP Solutions Receives USDA Disaster Assistance Funds for Puerto Rico Communities Affected by Hurricane Maria

Contact: Maegen McCaffrey, RCAP Solutions

978-630-6714, mmccaffrey@rcapsolutions.org

Washington, DC (September 10, 2019) – The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and our northeastern regional partner RCAP Solutions is pleased to announce the receipt of disaster assistance funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for three rural communities in Puerto Rico. These communities were badly affected by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

The communities receiving assistance are: Acuedouctos Barrio Guayabota Yabucoa, Inc.; Pozo de Agua, Inc.; and Comunidad Sector Los Gomez, Inc. The three communities combined received $169,571 in federal assistance from USDA.

“2017’s Hurricane Maria created a monumental shift in how we think about disaster recovery,” said Karen A. Koller, RCAP Solutions President and CEO. “We were fortunate to have the first boots on the ground as our organization worked around the clock to assist communities and assess the tremendous damage done to Puerto Rico’s small water systems. We applaud the USDA for providing the necessary resources for the revitalization and rebuilding of the Island. Access to safe and clean drinking water will only become more important as we see continued climate change. Creating sustainability for the long term in the Caribbean will continue to be an ongoing priority for our team, who lives and breathes their vitally important work at RCAP Solutions.”

Acueductos Barrio Guayabota Yabucoa is in Yabucoa, the eastern region of Puerto Rico. This water system serves 600 families, and several small businesses and community organizations. The water system is still severely affected by Maria and without power. The funding they received will provide generators and lab equipment needed for the system to increase compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

Pozo de Aqua is in Caguas, the central mountain range of Puerto Rico, and provides drinking water to approximately 183 families. The water system needs extensive repairs from damages caused by Maria. The funding they received will replace pipes, wells and other equipment and help prepare the system for any future disaster.

Comunidad Sector Los Gomez is in the central eastern part of Puerto Rico. Prior to Hurricane Maria, the system provided drinking water to 60 families, but the system lost power for six months following the disaster. The USDA funding will allow the community to replace damaged equipment and purchase a new generator. Because Maria damaged the water tank and well, the community is planning a second phase of funding to evaluate soil conditions to determine if next steps are needed to ensure the system is safe for all citizens.

“Even before Hurricanes Irma and Maria came through Puerto Rico, our team has been working with some of the smallest, most remote areas across the island. The tremendous support that our team in Puerto Rico provided to these communities was critical in securing these funds for three of the island’s hardest hit and lowest capacity areas,” said RCAP CEO Nathan Ohle. “The success each community had in securing these funds is exactly the reason the RCAP network is working to build capacity in small communities across the country and is a testament to the incredible work the team at our partner RCAP Solutions is accomplishing every day.”

About RCAP:
RCAP is a network of nonprofit organizations working to ensure rural and small communities throughout the United States have increased capacity to drive access to safe drinking water, sanitary wastewater, economic development and disaster recovery that leads to economic prosperity. To learn more about this work visit: rcap.org.

About RCAP Solutions:
Established in 1969 as Rural Housing Improvement, RCAP Solutions’ mission is to foster personal and public self-reliance and improve the quality of life for individuals, families and the communities in which they live. RCAP Solutions is an integrated community development organization serving the rural northeast, Caribbean, and Worcester county region for housing assistance. RCAP Solutions is the Worcester County affiliate of The Regional Housing Network (RHN) of Massachusetts and the Northeast affiliate of the national Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) Network based in Washington D.C.

¡Taller en una Caja!

RCAP Solutions Holds First Spanish “Workshop In A Box”

As part of our ongoing efforts to serve diverse, rural communities, RCAP Solutions held its first all-Spanish workshop in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico in June. This interactive workshop, which has been administered by our Technical Assistance Providers in English on a regular basis, helps operators and board members identify areas for improvement that are critical to success at their utility. The workshop focuses on ten key management areas of effectively managed water utilities, which make up a framework for a complete and well-rounded management approach.

The workshop materials, which were originally prepared by the USDA and the EPA, had been translated into Spanish by FEMA, RCAP Solutions, and the EPA, respectively. Due to the success of this first workshop, a local EPA staffer who facilitated the translation has requested additional workshops across the island, including a “Train the Trainer” session.

Among the more than two-dozen attendees were participants from eight different systems, including one from the municipal government, as well as Mr. Julio Chevres – a loan officer from the USDA Rural Development office in Caguas. RCAP Solutions’ six Technical Assistance Providers stationed in Puerto Rico also welcomed Sarah Buck, Director of Regionalization at our national affiliate, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. Sarah helped our TAPs facilitate the training.

In addition, Yabucoa Mayor Rafael Surillo stopped by to thank the attendees and RCAP Solutions for their hard work. Mr. Surillo had previously requested technical assistance from the USDA after the devastation from Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017. Both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still feeling the effects of these storms, and RCAP Solutions continues to help communities mend their water infrastructure and administer solid waste clean-up.

Sarah Buck (Director of Regionalization, RCAP Inc), Yabucoa Mayor Rafael Surillo, and Josefa Torres-Olivo (Director of District III, RCAP Solutions)

To view all of the photos of this event, check out our Facebook page. Photo Credits: Carlos Velazquez-Figueroa & Sarah Buck

New Testimonial Sheds Light on Importance of Training Sessions

“You don’t know how happy I am.” RCAP Solutions’ team in Puerto Rico recently held a review session that yielded impressive turnout and results

A few months ago, the Puerto Rican Treatment Plant Operators Board of Examiners announced an exam for current and would-be drinking water treatment plant operators. As a result of this announcement, several communities requested assistance in preparing. RCAP Solutions’ team in Puerto Rico quickly arranged a free training session, opened registration, and just as quickly filled all of the available spaces.

The training session was conducted in November 2018 and covered areas of math, biology, physics, and chemistry – as well as other topics like safety, equipment maintenance, regulation, and public health. The goal was to assist prospective operators who already had basic knowledge of how to treat community systems by giving them a “refresher course” regarding topics that would be on the exam.

The session attendees who took the exam recently got their results back. One participant who passed with an exceptional score told us, “You don’t know how happy I am, this means a lot to me in many ways. I felt I needed to tell you guys the great news first. It was not the first time I took the exam and the training was a difference this time. Thanks to all [at the] RCAP team.”

Juan Campos Collazo, our Community Development Specialist in Puerto Rico, led the training and was assisted by Carlos Velazquez-Figueroa, a Wastewater Technician. Campos Collazo expressed his thoughts, “The relationship between [the participants] and RCAP Solutions is an open one, with confidence to talk about their experience in the field and to ask questions. They have the opportunity to be themselves, be taken seriously, and be treated with respect.”

He continued, “The refresher training is maybe their best chance, for some of them – the only chance, to prepare for the Operator Certification Exam. I would add that this is the best investment for the required effort, as a certified operator will be more careful in the operation of a system in order to keep his license and will rely on better operation practices, thus producing more reliable drinking water.” He finished his thoughts with one final statement about the sessions, “We should keep doing them.”

There are no words to properly address our gratitude…

Acueducto Rural Guacio, is a community water system located in San Sebastian Municipality of Puerto Rico. Guacio is a low-income community were 57.9% live below the poverty line with a median household income of $14,463. The aqueduct provides drinking water to 85 rural families, most small farmers of minor crops.

The water system consists of two deep wells and a 52,000-gallon capacity distribution tank in which water is treated with a tablet chlorinator. The drinking water is distributed by gravity to all members and the community charges a flat rate of $20 per family per month for water consumption. The RCAP Solutions Technical Assistance Provider (TAP) assisted Guacio by helping submit a proposal that would provide funds necessary for the installation of individual water meters.

With this improvement, the community was in the process of shifting from a flat rate charge to one based on cost per consumption. The TAP assisted the community by helping to set the new payment structure, but the project was put on hold due to damage created from Hurricane Maria. The system suffered several broken pipelines due to landslides, but were able to rapidly repair and replace them. Since there was no electric power to operate the system, they tried to operate it with a generator, but it was damaged, and the community was without water service for more than 3 weeks.

Due to the emergency, RCAP Solutions was assisting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Health in completing drinking water assessments in rural areas. After performing Guacio’s assessment, RCAP was able to provide and install a new generator with assistance from the EPA, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Water Mission, another nonprofit organization with a focus on clean water solutions.

As a result, the community was once again able to operate the water system and provide safe, clean drinking water to the entire community. They were incredibly grateful for the work RCAP Solutions offered, and their partnership with Water Mission in providing the generator and bring power to the water system.

 

“Today, the 19th of October, we would like to give thanks to RCAP Solutions and Water Mission for recognizing and prioritizing the need in this area. We are a small non-profit community water system (Non-PRASA) that provides water to 86 families. We are well organized and well managed and have been successfully providing water for many years. For the last month, to keep our system open and serving our almost 90 families, we had to manually throw water into our distribution system to keep things flowing without the electricity that normally runs our pumps. We are very proud that we kept our system going since many other systems with similar issues were closed. In the last three days it has been a miracle that RCAP helped us to overcome a month of extreme sacrifice and get our system back to running normally. Thank God for RCAP Solutions and what they have done to help us–there are no words to properly address our gratitude.”

– Teresa Torres Quiles, from Aqueducto Rural Guacio, San Sebastian municipality of Puerto Rico.

Click here for more information on our REACH Out to Puerto Rico & USVI Campaign.

RCAP Solutions Selected as Hannaford Cause Bag Beneficiary

RCAP Solutions, Inc. was selected as a beneficiary of the Hannaford Cause Bag program for the month of November.

The Hannaford Cause Bag program is designed to support local nonprofits through the sale of their reusable Hannaford Helps bag.

RCAP Solutions, Inc. was selected by Hannaford store leadership as the November beneficiary of the program at the 21 Timpany Boulevard, Gardner, MA Hannaford store. For every Hannaford Helps reusable bag with the good karma message purchased at the Hannaford Store in Gardner, MA during the month of November, RCAP Solutions, Inc. will receive a $1 donation.

“This is an exciting opportunity for RCAP Solutions as we kick off our holiday season giving campaign,” said Karen A. Koller, President & CEO. “Our focus this year is to raise funds to help Puerto Rican hurricane victims. With this initiative, we’re providing an opportunity for the greater Gardner area to support those in the U.S. Caribbean territories as they struggle to rebuild their lives and stabilize their future.”

The funds raised will be divided into two distinct categories. The first will be directed towards the immediate need of providing emergency housing and support services to those who have chosen to resettle either temporarily or permanently in Massachusetts. The second will be deployed over the coming months to assist with reconstruction and economic recovery projects to those on the island of Puerto Rico.

“RCAP Solutions is uniquely positioned to help those who have been devastated by the recent hurricanes,” continued Koller. “With our housing efforts in Worcester County and a seasoned technical assistance team in Puerto Rico, RCAP Solutions is ready and able to meet the needs of those who so desperately need our vital services.”

RCAP Solutions has set a goal of raising $20,000 during the holiday season to support these two important initiatives.

About RCAP Solutions, Inc.

Established in 1969, RCAP Solutions mission is to foster personal and public self-reliance and improve the quality of life for individuals, families and the communities in which they live. RCAP Solutions is a comprehensive nonprofit community development corporation that works with communities of all sizes to address a broad range of needs. RCAP Solutions is part of a coordinated nationwide network with an integrated, multi-faceted approach to delivering high-quality services customized to each community’s unique requirements. For more information, please visit http://www.rcapsolutions.org/.

For more information on the Hannaford Cause Bag program, visit hannaford.bags4mycause.com.

RCAP Staff Finally Arrive Home in Puerto Rico

Pictured from left: Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director of Puerto Rico & U.S.V.I.; Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist, Community Resources; and Juan Campos Collazo, Community Development Specialist, Community Resources.

RCAP Solutions staff members were finally able to return home to their families in Puerto Rico after being in the states since Monday, September 18, before Hurricane Maria hit later that week. The three Puerto Rico based staff members were in Massachusetts for an all staff meeting and were then stranded in Florida for ten days awaiting a return flight to the island.

The following email message went out just before getting on the plane:

“Just to let you know that we are leaving Florida in a couple of minutes. Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers, it’s going to be an emotional day when we finally get together with our families. We will stay in contact if possible! A long journey ends and, a new one will start today. Please keep us in your prayers for strength and health so we can help others and raise from the adversity as we are good people and stronger than ever!”

Our thoughts go out to all those in Puerto Rico, the U.S.V.I. and the many others as they recover from the crippling effects of the recent hurricanes and other natural disasters. For almost 50 years, RCAP Solutions has been a vital resource to those in rural communities when they have critical need for assistance. We’re working with our staff and partner agencies in those areas to assess the most pressing short term and long-term needs. In the coming weeks, we’ll be outlining new initiatives that will provide funds and assistance to those in need as they work to rebuild their homes and communities.

Education is key to implement behavior change

By Edwin Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist at RCAP Solutions Puerto Rico

Capitanejo, Guaraguao, Guayabal and Rio Cañas Arriba are rural barrios in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico (PR) which are served through a USDA-RD Solid Waste Grant.

Since the fall of 2014 RCAP Solutions has provided technical assistance to overcome one of the most noticeable problems in these communities: the improper disposal of solid waste. Even when the municipality provides services such as weekly trash collection and monthly or bimonthly debris removal, many community residents do not participate in these initiatives to reduce solid waste generation. This demonstrates a current lack of interest or knowledge about how to solve their mounting solid waste disposal situation. The most probable reason for this behavior is a lack of environmental education and a low level of awareness of both the problem and its short and long term consequences.

Limited resources and an emphasis on funding and support in urban areas make it challenging to educate and assist rural residents. Important government supported initiatives like the Single Use Plastics Bag Ban (PR ACT 247), which went into effect on December 31, 2016 are very important because they pique the interest of not just urban but also rural communities.

RCAP has conducted eight workshops this year about the reasoning behind the passage of the “Plastic Bag Ban” in rural community schools to educate both students and teachers. They have learned the importance of this act and how they will benefit in terms of their health and the improvement of the surrounding natural environment.

The main goal of the initiative and RCAPs work around Solid Waste in PR is to initiate a process in which reduce, reuse and recycle can be a part of the local culture. A change in adult behavior can be promoted through the education of their children concerning solid waste problems and simple, affordable solutions. The kids have and will continue to assist RCAP in its efforts to modify the community’s learned bad habits and transform them into new positive ones.

“It’s been an excellent experience for our students to participate in the RCAP Solutions Workshops. The ways in which the concepts were taught were great: age appropriate for our students, very concise, using appropriate vocabulary, and captivating students’ attention. All teachers have expressed positive feedback. Our students are putting into practice what they learned in the workshop…and we hope to receive more workshops about recycling soon.”

Prof. Juan Cesari Delgado, Director of Capitenejo School.

Eliminating Illegal Dumping in Puerto Rico

Edwin Vázquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist, RCAP Solutions, Puerto Rico

Collores is one of the most named barrios in Juana Díaz PR. It was the birth place of  poet Luis Llorens Torres, one of the most important journalists of the first decades in the 20th century in PR. As a lawyer, playwright, politician and poet, he was responsible for the immortalization of the beauty of the rural areas of Collores in his writings. But in recent decades some of the beauty of “El Valle de Collores” was lost as a result of poor management of the solid waste.

Due to the collaborative strategy and the efforts between the “Solid Waste Taskforce” members and the communities, we can appreciate a positive change.  The Natural Resources Department contacted RCAP to refer a situation with the establishment of an illegal dumping site in the Agustinillo Sector at the road 512 km 4.2.  The place near the river is been used for the accumulation of solid waste for future pickup by the municipality.  Using the information in the RCAP solid waste brochure published in the community newspaper, some residents called the DRNA  Vigilant Corp. to complain about the problem. The lieutenant in charge, looking for a more proactive way to deal with the situation, oriented the residents in the sector and some interviews were made by RCAP TAP.pr dumping

“The residents who agree with this practice alleged that the area was designated by the municipality employees who collect the materials. They also claimed that the collection service has been delayed for a few weeks; according to them, maybe more than two months.”

With the assistance of the DRNA the residents were oriented about the consequences of that practice for the environment, the river and their health, also the legal penalties associated with the intervention from the DRNA and the police.

The community ceases the practice and contacted the municipality officers for the collection with the information provided during our intervention.  TAP call the Juana Díaz DTOP Director to let him know about the situation and coordinate the removal of the materials. The DRNA on their part contacted JD DTOP to require action on the collection of the materials. The municipality took action immediately.

With the participation of residents of the Agustinillo sector, TAP performed a cleaning and restoration of the area used for illegal dumping.  The small illegal dumping site in progress was stopped and eliminated. The place was programed for the developing of a land scape that will be adopted by community members.  Community groups such as; the Colectivo Valle de Collores, were involved in the process and additional members of other sectors will be contributing with the design of a landscape.

The DRNA donated endemic bushes for the place.  The activity was reported to the Regional Offices of DRNA and all stakeholders, as a result of this, the State Department of Transportation and Public Works collaborated with the initiative and invited the community to their nursery for orientation and selection of other ornamental plants. The adoption of the area is going to be made formally by DTOP. The residents are in the process of developing a project in which they can integrate food crops and ornamentals in the area in order to address the interest of residents with different interests.  Some banana trees were planted in the background as suggested by the some of them.

The PR Natural Resources Department Vigilant Corp was present on the cleanup and the possible violators of the law were identified for orientation about the situation and the possible repercussions of their behavior.  A sign donated by Colectivo Valle de Collores was placed in the area with a positive message: “ Isla Adentro: peces, flores, pájaros, aire puro, aguas cristalinas…pr dumping1Consérvalos.  (Inside Island: fish, flowers, birds, pure air, crystal clear waters…Preserve it).

After a few months the place remains clean and the donated plants are in the area waiting for the final design and the top soil conditioning. Collores is going back to be the idyllic place nostalgically described by one of its favorite sons; who immortalized its rural beauty before the solid waste were part of the scene.  Thanks to the team work of the taskforce created by RCAP and the community support Collores is changing for good; the empowerment of the community is taking place in the solid waste management and we are convinced of the success of or approach.

RCAP Receives Award from Department of Agriculture

RCAP Solutions has been awarded $244,831 from the USDA-Logo-300x167 Department of Agriculture’s RCDI grant program.

This grant will allow RCAP Solutions the opportunity to undertake 33 Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping or technical assistance projects to 14 recipients and 20 beneficiaries in rural and low income communities in Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico that work to develop the capacity of the recipients through the provision of training, technical assistance and the development and outreach resource materials.

The primary focus of the projects is to increase the capacity of small, rural water and wastewater systems by providing high level GIS services and technical assistance and training.

RCAP will also provide financial and technical assistance to recipients to develop their capacity and ability to undertake related projects for housing, community facilities, or community and economic development by providing technical, financial, managerial training and technical assistance that focuses on board development, energy efficiency, source water protection, asset management, and effective utility management.

“This is the second time that we have been awarded this grant, but with a sizable increase over our last award,” stated Karen A. Koller, President & CEO of RCAP Solutions. “This award will allow us to increase the capacity of small, rural water and wastewater systems by providing high level GIS services and technical assistance and training in Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico.”

The overall goal of the project is to increase the capacity of the recipients through the provision of training and technical assistance as well as the implantation of a GIS solution specifically designed for each beneficiary.  Each local beneficiary will be equipped with a cutting-edge GIS solution capable of significantly improving operational efficiency.

Water and wastewater facilities are one of the primary factors that limit the community and economic development opportunities in rural areas.  Enhancing the capacity at such facilities supports effective management of this infrastructure.  Furthermore, training and technical assistance will help in developing the capacity to implement and utilize GIS technology.  GIS is an important and effective tool for infrastructure management, land use planning, and community outreach and consensus-building.

RCAP has the training materials and delivery network, skilled rural community technical assistance providers, and relationships with county planning offices to make these services accessible and beneficial to the rural and low income systems participating in this project.

RCAP will meet with each recipient prior to commencing each project to discuss project work plans and goals and will use a variety of benchmarks to measure the success of the program.

Disclaimer: Any RCAP Solutions work completed with small communities for GIS is strictly to provide data to small systems and counties and is in no way intended for design, construction and surveying use.

This is Our Home: Tackling Rural Solid Waste Issues in Puerto Rico

IMG_0493As the snow storm winds down here in Central MA, we thought it appropriate to share a video made recently about the clean-up efforts RCAP is spearheading in Puerto Rico. This video shows the tremendous support shown by the community, resulting in over 400 volunteers coming together in the poor, rural barrio of Manzanillo, to clean a beach destroyed by illegal dumping. Our second annual clean-up will take place in just a few weeks in Guayabal, a similar area just a few miles away.

https://vimeo.com/143277565

Click here for more detailed information about the cleanup including before and after photos:  http://www.rcapsolutions.org/rcap-solutions-changes-lives-and-perceptions-in-a-rural-puerto-rican-community/