Hammerstone Helps Puerto Rico
In early February, my colleague Julie Kitson and I traveled to Gurabo, Puerto Rico. The purpose of our trip was twofold: to witness what life is like for Puerto Ricans on the ground in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and to find a way for Hammerstone to help out with reconstruction efforts. Our experiences there blew our minds away. While a tremendous amount of work has been done since September, parts of the island still need to dig out from under the debris before they can even begin rebuilding. More than 4 months after the storm, houses are still missing roofs, electrical wires lie in tangles under snapped poles, and there are waiting lists months long just to line up labor for repairs.
We returned from our short reconnaissance visit with ambitious visions for collaborating for the long term in the reconstruction efforts. In the short term, we’ve identified a project with immediate impact, repairing the house of a woman who has been displaced since September. We returning the first week in March to work on this project and others. Read on to learn more about Pucha and the work we plan to do for her, the equine therapy center that will be hosting us during our work trip, our crew of women builders, and our plans for a longer term collaboration and education in Puerto Rico.
Most importantly, we need your help to do this work. We are fundraising to cover all materials and operational costs of this effort. The money we raise supports our construction projects in March, and also helps us create a more permanent presence to continue assisting with reconstruction in Puerto Rico for the longer term. Please support our GoFundMe campaign to help Hammerstone help rebuild Puerto Rico.
Pucha leaves home at 5:00 every morning to work as a cook in the local schools. She hasn’t stayed in her own home since Hurricane Maria. The storm initially took her roof, but since she wasn’t able to repair it, for the past 4 months rain has been drenching her house, destroying all her personal possessions and slowly decaying the structure of her house.
In the past few weeks, our friends at Rogues on Roofs were able to put a new metal roof on Pucha’s house preventing any further damage. Pucha and her family were able to remove the last of her damaged possessions and furniture, and to remove the ruined linoleum floor.
When we met with Pucha, she was excited to meet a group of women builders. “I would do this work myself,” she exclaimed! “I’ve done it before, but I’m 60 now, not 20!”
This picture shows the three main items we will tackle during our work trip.
Pucha’s linoleum floors were ruined by the rain. Most of the old material has been scraped up, leaving a concrete substrate ready for porcelain tile. Tile is a durable, cleanable, and culturally appropriate floor surface for this house.
The interior partition walls and the 3 wood framed exterior walls are covered with 1/4″ plywood. Most of this plywood is water damaged beyond repair, and is potentially hiding mold and rot. We will remove all the wall covering, inspect and repair framing, replace it with new plywood, and then give it a fresh coat of paint.
Once the walls are open, we will have the opportunity to inspect and repair the electric system, adding new lights and switches if necessary.
If we have the time and budget, we will purchase and install new kitchen cabinets for Pucha.
Carrying On Our Educational Mission
Rogues on Roofs also connected us with Juanita Valentin-Morris, the director of the YWCA in San Juan where we will be offering an afternoon skills building workshop to the women and girls associated with the YWCA.
For the Longer Term
One avenue for teaching women on real construction sites will be by carrying on the efforts of Rogues on Roofs. Rogues on Roofs are a lightweight and nimble non-organization that is doing critical work putting metal roofs on houses. This work is dependent upon having knowledgeable crew leaders and hardworking laborers to get the work done and get it done right. This work also lends itself well to the training of new construction workers – there is plenty of work so it’s easy to build the repetitions needed to solidify new skills. Our friend and Rogues on Roofs co-founder, Lisa Howard, is a great example of this. Lisa showed up for a volunteer trip in December of 2017. A week after returning home from Gurabo, she flew right back to help start Rogues on Roofs. Lisa is tough and hardworking, but had little previous carpentry experience. Just 3 weeks into her work with Rogues on Roofs, she has learned their system, mastered the impact driver, and is well on her way to being a team leader installing new roofs.
Our team comprises women builders with diverse backgrounds and experience. We are a herd of unicorns – women working in non-traditional trades – who share the vision of increasing our numbers until women carpenters, electricians, painters, welders and plumbers aren’t viewed as odd, unusual, or novelties.
- Maria Klemperer-Johnson, a builder since 2002, has been working specifically to empower women in trades work since 2013 through Hammerstone School: Carpentry for Women .
- Julie Kitson, a builder since 2002, has more recently been working as a construction manager in the Ithaca area. She works to train and hire women as much as possible.
- Rebekah Carpenter is an electrician, despite what her last name might indicate. She has worked installing Solar PV systems in Ithaca and around the world with her business Fingerlakes Renewables since 1999.
- Melissa Galliher has worked in the trades for 13 years and owned her own drywall and painting business since 2015.
- Christina Alario has been working as a carpenter for 2.5 years. She also teaches carpentry skills to women as a part of Hammerstone School.
- Lisa Howard is new to construction. She has been working installing new metal roofs for folks in Puerto Rico with the organization Rogues on Roofs since January.
- Crista Shopis, an engineer with Taitem Engineering since 2007, has specialized in energy efficiency and solar electricity. Before that she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay where she built her own home and helped communities design and build running water systems. Crista’s grandmother was born and raised in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
- Megan-Mack Nicholson, an outdoor educator and carpenter in her own right, is the organizing force that brought this group together. While she won’t be able to join us in early March, she is part of our ongoing work.
Our Support Network in Gurabo
We are fortunate to have connected with Edmundo Jimenez, owner of The Equus Center in Gurabo, where before the storm he provided equine therapy to a wide variety of folks with diverse needs. Mundo’s farm was completely destroyed by the hurricane.
While Mundo himself is still reeling from the storm and trying to rebuild his farm and business, he has generously let us use the facility as a staging ground for our work. We will camp in the covered riding ring, cook in the small kitchen in a trailer on the property, use the facilities, electricity and water that have been reconnected at the farm, and build upon his goodwill in the neighborhood and town. Mundo is well connected with local and state leaders, and is personally invested in our educational initiative.
Mundo is generous with his facility in the hopes of rebuilding his community, and also needs support himself. One of our projects while we are in Gurabo will be to rebuild his stables so his horses will finally have covered shelter again.
Your positive feedback as we’ve been dropping hints about this endeavor has kept us fueled. We hope you will follow our progress on facebook and instagram to stay engaged with our work on the island. And most importantly, your financial support is what allows us to tackle this project.