Bound for Puerto Rico: "We will make a difference"
On the morning of Jan. 18, 71 Dominion Energy employees boarded a chartered plane destined for Puerto Rico, where they volunteered to work for a minimum of four weeks to help repair the electric grid. With much of the island still without power nearly four months after the destruction of Hurricane Maria, employees from across the company were eager to help.
Upon arrival, they synced up with a barge transporting 57 restoration vehicles and met up with the company’s advanced team for a grand total of 80 employee volunteers—line crews, logistics support, security, and more. They are working alongside nearly 5,500 others from utilities around the country.
We spoke with three employees shortly before they left, and will follow up when they return to report on their adventures. For now, read about their sacrifices, fears and excitement as they embark on the restoration trip of a lifetime.
Joel: Designer, husband, dad
Joel Rivera is a Suffolk, Va., native, but his background and roots are in Puerto Rico. As soon as he found out Dominion Energy was going to help with the restoration effort, he volunteered.
“The hardest part will be leaving family behind, especially my teething baby,” says Joel, Electric Distribution Design coordinator in Norfolk, Va. When Joel returns home, he’ll be greeted by his wife, Brittney, and their three children—6-month-old daughter, Isabella; 9-year-old daughter, Gianna; and 10-year-old son, Jordan.
“It was my wife who encouraged me to volunteer,” he says. “She understands my connection to the island. It’s personal for me. I couldn’t go without her support.”
Joel is fluent in English and Spanish. His primary role in Puerto Rico will be communications, damage assessment and logistics support for the crews.
When Joel told his relatives living in Puerto Rico that he’d be coming down, they were overjoyed. “They said it’s excellent that I work for a company that lends help to those desperately in need.
“I’m extremely proud to be able to go. It’s gratifying to work for a company that values helping my fellow Puerto Ricans.”
Missy: Storekeeper, grandma, dog mom
While Melissa “Missy” Collins doesn’t have direct ties to the island, she is always up for an adventure.
“I’ve never been to Puerto Rico,” she says. “I volunteered because I want to help, and I know it will be an incredible opportunity to learn new things.”
Missy, a storekeeper in Norfolk, says she is most nervous about assimilating to a new culture. “I don’t speak Spanish,” she says. “But I did download an app to help me.”
On the island, Missy will be a “runner,” delivering material to the crews working in the field.
She is most sad to leave behind her “puppy,” Hurley—an 11-year-old Labrador. Hurley will be awaiting Missy’s return in four to six weeks, along with her boyfriend, her three grown daughters, and her grandson, Mason, who is almost 2.
Rawin: Engineer, recent grad, Puerto Rico native
Rawin Berrocales jumped at the opportunity to volunteer when the Hola! Employee Resource Group asked for interpreters fluent in Spanish.
For Rawin, an engineer at Millstone Nuclear Power Station in Waterford, Conn., the trip to Puerto Rico will be a homecoming. He graduated from the University of Puerto Rico and has been with the company for a year and a half.
“I was grateful for the opportunity to start work at Dominion Energy,” he says. “But I was sad to leave home after graduation. There were no jobs there.”
“To me, this trip is a way to give back to Puerto Rico, even though I left. It’s a chance to give back to my people, my island. Puerto Rico will rise again.”
Rawin’s parents were living on the island when Maria hit. “After the hurricane, it was nearly three weeks before I officially got word my parents and brother were safe,” he says.
Nearly four months after the storm, their home is still without power. Fortunately, his parents made it to the United States, where they have been staying with Rawin. One of his brothers, Merwin, is still on the island, determined to finish his studies. “I hope I can see him while I’m there,” Rawin says. “It’s been probably six months.”
Along with his parents, Rawin is leaving behind his wife, Ahisha, and their 21-month-old daughter, Amanda. “It’s so hard to leave them,” he says. “Amanda is just learning to talk. She doesn’t understand why I’m leaving for so long.”
But he’s grateful for the opportunity just the same. “I’m so proud of Dominion Energy for making this trip a reality. We will make a difference.”