*This is part two of three stories leading up to Kevin Wallevand's documentary 'Rebuilding Paradise' airing on WDAY at 6:30 Thursday, Nov. 22., If you would like to watch part one CLICK HERE.*
Volunteers from Fargo Moorhead and Park Rapids are helping people in Puerto Rico rebuild after hurricane Maria.
WDAY News Reporter Kevin Wallevand first brought you the story of a great-grandmother who is getting a place to live, thanks to those volunteers. Now, why so many take vacation days from work, to work.
On a hot, rainy Sunday volunteers from Calvary Lutheran in Park Rapids and Fargo Moorhead Rotary attended church together.
But this was no ordinary service.
The Lutheran church here in Puerto Rico joined others across the island on this day, in remembering those lost to Maria...
“We want to pray for all those people, the one year after the hurricane. Thousands of people dead,” the pastor said.
Candles and flowers, a way to remember the 3,000 who died from the hurricane.
It was a moving ceremony, the island had lost so much.
Billions in damage, lives lost.
“Thousands of people crying for their families, we want to pray for them,” said the pastor.
With time short, the group continues rebuilding a home for great grandmother Luz Soto Martinez, who lost her home in Hurricane Maria.
The 25-member volunteer team is redoing another house from top to bottom, so Luz will have a place to live.
Volunteers like John and Julie Cook from Park Rapids had to turn their lives upside down to come here.
Both teach in the schools, math and band, their lives are crazy with active young kids but here they are helping Luz get a home.
“We had to get both our parents are coming down and helping. His parents are doing the first half, my parents the second half,” Julie said, “We just had to have a plan on where everyone needs to go and when and get them to the right place.”
“They said 75 percent of the people in the U.S. after the hurricane did not know Puerto Rico was part of the United States.This is our country and there are people who need help and it is nice to be part of that,” said John.
The shell of the house started looking like a home for Luz.
Throughout the week, she would come and see the progress, moved to tears that people from Minnesota and North Dakota would spend days working on a house for her.
“She is happy and grateful for it,” Luz said through a translator.
“It is pretty daunting but so rewarding helping one family at a time,” said volunteer Cliff Tweedale.
There were preachers, teachers, retired social workers and stockbrokers, the reason they came varied as well.
“I knew I wanted to continue to have purpose, and so something like this just rang to me and I knew I had to do it,” said Linda Eickman.
“t is gratifying to see tears in their eyes of happiness when we come down to do this work,” Keith Brokke added.
And everyone quickly learned, Puerto Rico is us.
“I think we are guilty as a nation of not claiming this as our territory, which it is,” said Reverend Glenn Anderson, “So to be able to come and offer these gifts that is part of who we are as the United States, and I think we should be doing more of it I think.”
Back at the house, things are wrapping up.
The team heads back to Minnesota and North Dakota in the morning, it sure looks like a home.
In a few hours the team will hand over the keys to this great-grandmother, a place she will soon call home.