Triton College Freshmen Carlos Morales (third from right) and Isabel Ocampo (fourth from right) pose with other Chicago area students and chaperones who traveled to Puerto Rico to provide humanitarian aid during their spring break. (photo courtesy: Storehouse Church)

“It was life changing” – Triton Students Spend Spring Break Restoring Hurricane Ravaged Puerto Rico

When most college students board a plane during spring break, they’re headed for a week of partying and sun soaked beaches.

Triton College freshman Carlos Morales of Norridge and Isabel Ocampo of Elmwood Park are not like most college students. 

Instead, they joined students from Chicago and surrounding suburbs on a mission trip to Puerto Rico in late March – where they helped residents recover from the devastating effects of last summer’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“We have friends who are Puerto Rican and they have family there,” said Morales, who is studying accounting and finance at Triton. “I like helping people, so it’s like they’re family, too.”

The students visited several cities throughout the weeklong trip, including San Juan, Moca, Barceloneta, San Lorenzo and other areas impacted by the storms. They quickly got to work helping restore homes by scraping water damaged walls, painting and removing damaged property. They also provided care packages of water, food and other essential items and visited with the elderly.

Seeing the devastation up-close was an eye opening experience.

“When you visit the areas that are not tourist areas, it’s pretty devastating,” said Ocampo, who is studying early childhood development and business management. “When we arrived, some people told us that they had just gotten their power back two days before.”

The group of eight students and four adults organized the trip through the ‘Chosen Youth’ group of Storehouse Church, located in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood.

Lead Pastor Lou Ramos helped organize the trip. He says it’s important for students to have a voice at the table as a means to developing leadership skills.

“It’s great to see young leaders do this and get out of their comfort zones,” said Ramos. “We say we care about people, but to actually get out there and do it, I’m super proud of them.”

Morales and Ocampo were the only two college-aged students to make the trip. The others are currently in high school. Both say the experience brought the group closer and allowed them to serve as mentors to the younger members.

“It wasn’t forced or like ‘hey, I’m taking charge,’ Ocampo recalled. “It was already there, the girls already looked up to me in a way. It was great because we got to bond and we got to lead together.”

To fund the trip, the travelers each raised in excess of $1,000 to cover airline food and other expenses. They worked together to hold raffles, sell food after church services, and seek donations from family, friends and community members. Morales, Ocampo and the rest of the group plan to return to Puerto Rico June 30-July 7 to continue their humanitarian work on the island.

“(The local residents) were just so filled with joy. Some people just need company. It was life changing because we could see that we made a difference,” Morales said.

Anyone interested in supporting the group's efforts can donate through the church’s website, storehousechicago.org. Pastor Ramos says he is seeking new young leaders to become members of the Chosen Youth group and to join them on their upcoming trip.