Puerto Rican site serves as a base for hurricane recovery
March 22, 2019
It is not hard for visitors from the mainland United States to draw comparisons between Campamento El Guacio and Presbyterian camps back home. “You can just imagine kids there in the summertime,” says Bryce Wiebe, director of Special Offerings for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, reflecting on the facility with the requisite dorms, dining hall and fields you expect at a summer camp.
For Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, the camp in the western mountains of Puerto Rico brought to mind Camp Johnsonburg in New Jersey and Camp Kirkwood in the Poconos — camps he has attended and worked with.
“I can’t imagine having a camp this beautiful,” Johnson said, recalling his December visit to Guacio.
Wiebe and Johnson were part of a delegation from the church’s Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries that visited Puerto Rico in mid-December to see projects they were already supporting and explore potential new collaborations.
Guacio was one of the initial recipients of funds through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) in the days following Hurricane María’s landfall in September 2017.Sínodo Presbiteriano Boriquén in western Puerto Rico. “We awarded a grant to meet the needs at Guacio to help them continue to do the good work they are doing.”
Though the camp itself was hard hit by María, Guacio became a resource for the surrounding community in the weeks and months following the storm, helping supply needs from water and ice to a psychologist to help people shattered by the hurricane and its aftermath.
“In my head, I had Guacio being this cute little Presbyterian camp,” Johnson said. “When you go there and look at the expanse, you’re like, ‘My God — look at all this land and what can be done,’ especially after listening to Roberto talk about what this camp meant to their lives.”
Johnson was referring to Guacio community leader Roberto Lebrón, who was part of a group that met with the Presbyterian contingent to talk about the camp’s historic and present-day role in the community.
The community leaders who met with the Presbyterian delegation included Marizol Vélez, director of Presbiterianos En Servicio A La Comunidad (PESAC); Rev. Iris Dalila, pastor of Guacio Presbyterian Church; Carmen and Carlos Umpierre, farmers working with the camp; members of the camp’s board of trustees; and Wilmari Vargas, director of the camp.
Vargas, whose father built the mountaintop cross that overlooks the camp, received widespread praise from the group for reviving the camp, which was at one point on the verge of being sold, even before the storm hit.
“We saw how the facility after Wilmari’ s arrival has grown from scratch all the way up,” said Keyla Candelario, who attended the camp as a child. “We came with a lot of young people to help her and other volunteers.
“She approached me, still being a young person, to be part of the governing board. Although I may not be sophisticated in a lot of the processes it takes to be on the board, I know I can be a voice for a lot of the young people, and I can share a lot of ideas that young people have for this facility.”
González-Colón says Vargas was the key to reviving programs and community involvement in the camp — and then, “Lo and behold, here comes María.”
While sustaining a lot of damage, the camp remained a beacon to the community, able to supply necessities like power and water, which still have not been restored to some places in the surrounding community.
Kirk says the lack of government support for areas outside major population centers and tourist destinations makes PDA’s work in communities such as Guacio particularly important. In addition to providing agricultural opportunities to the community, Guacio is at the forefront of projects such as helping introduce solar power to the community, and it is restoring one of its dorm complexes to house volunteers who come to work in the area.
“Instead of dampening the revitalization efforts, the storm lit a fire under them,” Kirk says. Since the first time he visited Guacio, Kirk says, “There has been exponential progress to improve the camp’s appearance and functionality, which has put it in a position to serve the entire community.”
Rich Copley, Communication Strategist, Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Guacio – Presbyterian Youth Camp
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious and bountiful God, you remind us that through your Son all things are possible. When we are tempted to see what we don’t have and doubt the future of the church’s ministry, remind us of the miracles Christ performed with five loaves and two fish. May we see that you are the creator and sustainer of the church and of the church’s witness to the world. Amen.