Posted by Jennifer Schoenhals


For those of you that were unable to attend the Sailabration District conference and did not have anyone from your club attend, you likely have not heard what an amazing adventure we had. The conference was a huge success in many ways; financially, educationally, camaraderie but most importantly we were able to have a Rotary in Action day in St. Maarten and a Discovery Mission in Puerto Rico.  See the group picture on the left.  They are ready for the Rotary Action Day in St. Maarten.
The Rotary Action day in St. Maarten was co-ordinated by Lezlie Murch a former VTT Leader to the same island.  We visited a school that was destroyed by Hurricane Irma and saw a presentation about how our district was part of a Global Grant for $345,000US for its reconstruction.  Then we visited the school where the children are temporarily being educated.  The absolutely electrical joint Rotary meeting for lunch was followed by an afternoon of interaction with the Players, a development program for youth at risk.  All attendees felt this was a highlight of the conference week. 
The team for the discovery mission in Puerto Rico included Rotary International President Representative Bob Menconi and his wife Monica, District Governor Bob Artis, Past District Governor Robb McLeod and his significant other Donna, Past District Governor Rick Sterne, Jennifer Schoenhals, and her significant other Chris.  This team was met by members of the Rotary Club of San Juan, President Gerry Cupiano, Armand Pique and Past District Governor Juanita Valentin-Morris.
The local club picked us up at the dock and whisked us to Loiza, a small coastal community that was ravaged by Hurricanes Irma and then Maria.  The group had the pleasure of meeting the current mayor of Loiza, Julia Nazario Fuentes and her assistant Luis Daniel.  After a short meeting to discuss the issues surrounding the citizens, we had a brief tour.
What we have learned about Loiza is that the community was born out of the arrival of slaves many years ago.  It still has the highest Black population on the island, with the highest rate of unemployment and poor economic development.  The inability of its residents to produce deeds to their properties has hindered their capability to obtain grants from FEMA.  Therefore, over 800 people are still living under blue tarps from the fall of 2017 when the two massive Hurricanes touched the island. Loiza relies heavily on tourism, both local and international due to the proximity to the beach.  However, the conditions of the city are less than desirable and the impact of the lack of visitors has left it without the funds to rebuild. Pictured right is PDG Robb pointing to a house that still has a blue tarp on it.
Our tour took us to a facility that gave PDG Robb a great idea and he pledged $5000 for an initial project that we hope will be a program to help this community regenerate.   A plan and a group gathered to begin working feverishly to create a small team to go in March for the first of a multi-phased program. 
However, Mother Nature had other plans.  An earthquake that hit the closer to the southwestern part of the island left Puerto Rico without power.  This meant we were unable to communicate with our team there.  Further, the most immediate demands have taken the focus away from the community of Loiza to others in more immediate need.
Although Robb and Jennifer have had to rethink the timing of the initial plan, we are determined to make a difference.  We are looking for a small group of people willing to get their hands dirty, paint, clean and do some small jobs to prepare a small school that can be used as a community center and shelter in the event of future flooding.  This group will travel to Puerto Rico sometime in late April or early May.  Pictured left is the discovery team meeting in the mayor's office.
If you are looking to participate in a hands-on Rotary project and Make a Difference, we want to hear from you.  Send an email of interest to or find us on Facebook @sailabration7090 and leave a message.   This opportunity is not a District grant or club sponsored event, but one born out of the passion generated by the discovery team's visit to Loiza.  The team will consider Rotarians and non-Rotarians.  
If you want to see some of the pictures of the cruise follow us on Facebook, or if your club would like to hear about the District Conference Cruise, send an email. Jennifer would love to come and speak to your club.