Puerto Rico: Going Home to Help Yields Many Rewards
Alexandra Garcia was born and raised in Puerto Rico, so it’s not surprising that she was determined to help after Hurricane Maria devastated her hometown last September.
“You can’t help but feel compassion and solidarity when you see natural disasters affect other places on the news,” she says “But it’s different when disaster hits close to home and the people you love.” Alexandra, an engineer at the North Anna Power Station, recently returned from a six-week stint on the island, having taken leave from work to serve on a volunteer brigade.
It wasn’t easy to leave her boyfriend, Kenny Grover, and their 4-year-old Pitbull mix, Muchacho, that they fondly call “Mooch Dog.” Kenny also works at North Anna as a unit supervisor.
Alexandra, known as Alex, joined Dominion Energy in 2015. She was no stranger to the company, after completing three summer internships at North Anna and Mount Storm Power Station while she was a student at the University of Puerto Rico.
On the island, she did everything from handing out supplies to conducting needs analyses and brainstorming long-term solutions for disaster relief. “You know how the saying goes: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ We want to teach people skills like in-house water filtration and recycling strategies, so they are ready next time,” she says. “It won’t be the last natural disaster.”
Alex says she learned that “volunteering isn’t always momentous. It can be as mundane and simple as cleaning out a warehouse, but it still makes a difference.”
In addition to the volunteer brigade, Alex facilitated a partnership between Dominion Energy and her father’s Puerto Rico-based solar installation company. “I went to my leadership and asked how we could partner to get more solar to the island,” she says. “They were very receptive.”
Dominion Energy shipped 50 kilowatts of solar panels, donated by Strata Solar, to Puerto Rico. Alex synced up with her father’s company and helped with the rooftop installation. “We were working to set up 15 microgrids in communities across the island,” she explains. “We installed them at central areas like schools and churches.” Rather than powering individual homes, the microgrids will serve as temporary “Energy Oases” where community members can do laundry and charge devices.
As hard as it was to leave her life and routine in Virginia, Alex claims it was incredible to give back to her hometown. “And my parents were thrilled to have me back,” she adds. “They hadn’t had me home for that long since I left for college. They told me they were proud I came back to help with the reconstruction.”
Alex also got to spend time with her two younger brothers, David and Daniel, both students at the University of Puerto Rico. “The three of us are very close,” she says. “But I miss out on a lot, living so far away. It was gratifying to catch up with them in person.”
She loved spending quality time with family, but seeing her hometown destroyed was not easy. Alex describes a cherished beach spot where she used to vacation and train with her university soccer team: “You’d walk down a little road with a palm tree at the end, and then you’d see beautiful coastline to the left and right. I went back to see it. I just stood there in awe. It was completely destroyed by Maria. I couldn’t help but cry looking at it. I just had to walk away and realize that some things will never be the same.”
The last week of her trip, her boyfriend, Kenny, flew down to meet her. The couple was visiting one of their favorite beaches when she was met with the surprise of a lifetime. “He said, ‘I have a question. Will you marry me?’ I was shocked!”
Once Alex and her new fiancé were back at North Anna, she was overjoyed to hear that about 80 Dominion Energy employees have traveled to the island to join the national effort to repair the electric grid. “The locals are so grateful,” she notes. “And the crews going will see a different part of Puerto Rico than the tourists see. They’ll see who we are.
“The response from Dominion Energy has been incredible,” she says. “The company did more than I ever expected. It’s humbling. It makes me feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be, and I’m proud to say I work here.”