UTSA students spend spring break helping to rebuild Puerto Rico

SAN ANTONIO – UTSA students spent spring break giving back to communities in Puerto Rico devastated by Hurricane Maria.  

“There are certain parts that are still rebuilding, some parts that aren’t even being rebuilt,” Jessica Dawson, UTSA assistant director of the Student Center for Community Engagement and Inclusion, said. 

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. The island sustained catastrophic damage and a humanitarian crisis. 

The group of UTSA students was focused on the environment on this trip. 

“We went to a nature reserve and we helped nonprofit organizations,” Sarah Elsunni, a UTSA student, said. 

“We planted and maintained trees in order to cultivate and promote native plant growth because many of the native plants had been blown away by the hurricane and uprooted. We also went to the Boys and Girls Club of San Juan to build better relationships with (the) people and community,” Joshua Mihalik, a UTSA student, said. 

For student Joshua Mihalik, it hits close to home. 

“Puerto Rico holds a special place in my heart cause my grandfather is from there originally,” Mihalik said. 

Students said what impacted them the most is the country’s spirit during this time of recovery. 

“What was really inspiring was seeing the effort that the locals there put to their life to rebuild their land and they really dedicated themselves towards this effort,” Elsunni said. 

Students said while they paid their own way, the experience was priceless. UTSA officials said they hope to go the island again next year.

The UTSA Alternative Break Program started in 1994. Students have focused on environmental restoration, immigration, hunger, homelessness and working with children. 

About the Authors:

Tiffany Huertas is known for her in-depth storytelling and her involvement with the community.

Jason Foster is an executive producer at KSAT. He's worked in the news industry in Texas for more than 15 years, including as a photojournalist.