Written By: Rebecca Nimerfroh | Photography By: Brian Sager
Nantucket resident Carlos Castrello comes to the aid of his native Puerto Rico.
More than six months after category five Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, over 900,000 US citizens are still without power on the island. The tenth most intense hurricane in recorded history, Maria’s 200-mile-per-hour winds ripped highways from the ground, shredded homes and reduced entire communities to piles of rubble. The massive destruction caused hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans to immigrate to the mainland United States, creating a desperate need for engineers, construction workers and many other professionals to bring the island back from the brink. While many are fleeing, other Puerto Ricans, like Nantucket resident Carlos Castrello, are rushing back into the destruction
“The day after the hurricane, I felt hopeless,” says Castrello, who moved to Nantucket six years ago and serves as assistant general manager at The Nantucket Hotel. “I always had it in my DNA to help people who could not help themselves, and I thought we could do something here on Nantucket.” Raised by his mother, who worked for the Red Cross for more than forty years, Castrello’s earliest memories were of helping people by his mother’s side. Now a world away from his hurting countrymen, Castrello needed to come up with a way to come to their aid.
This winter, he launched Nantucket Cares, a nonprofit under the umbrella of the Nantucket Community Foundation that’s dedicated to aiding Puerto Rico through fundraising and organizing volunteers. “Our goal is to figure out what the most pressing needs are and bring them to the forefront,” Castrello explains. “The crisis is not nearly over. These towns need help.”
Reflecting on two relief trips he made to Puerto Rico, Castrello describes “forgotten towns” beyond the reach of San Juan that are utterly destitute. People in these towns have no jobs, no electricity and no roofs on their homes. Instead, government-supplied tarps keep the rain out. “But the tarps make it so infernally hot inside the house,” he says. “Once summer starts, it will be 100 degrees in some of these homes. And the clock is ticking—hurricane season will again be upon us soon.” Depression is an insidious consequence suffered by many of the Puerto Rican residents left behind. “These people feel they have been forgotten by their own country, their own government,” Castrello says. Since the storm, reports have shown an increase in suicide attempts by a staggering 246 percent. “They are malnourished and depressed,” he says. “The hurricane is still very much entrenched in everyone’s minds. Every time it rains and the wind blows really hard, the children start shaking.”
With the number of teachers dwindling, schools are closing. Parks, basketball courts and baseball diamonds are all shuttered. “The kids have nowhere to play,” he says. “That’s one of the hardest parts. Any money that we raise, we are going to coordinate with these towns and get behind that mission of reopening parks.” The Nantucket community has responded to Castrello’s calls for action. “This cause hits pretty close to home,” says Nantucket Intermediate School’s Jennifer Lewis. “There are so many students that are connected to the islands and the Caribbean, or still have family there.” This past October, Lewis organized a one-day dance-a-thon for students in third, fourth and fifth grade that raised $15,000 for Nantucket Cares. “The entire school loved the dancing,” she says, “but aside from that, these kids love to help other people, and they were so proud when they came into the classroom, telling me how much money they raised.”
“I couldn’t tell you how many people have volunteered to help,” Castrello says. “That’s why our foundation is called Nantucket Cares, because we truly believe people on Nantucket care.” To help raise more awareness, Castrello has teamed up with local filmmaker John Stanton to create a film tentatively titled Nantucket Cares, Mission of Hope for Puerto Rico. Additionally, Castrello is scouting volunteers interested in offering their time to help establish the fledgling foundation. “I wish I could do this seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” he says. “I feel like if everybody does what we are doing just a little bit, this country will be back up and running in no time…Even if we help one single person and we give them hope for the future, I will be happy.” Carlos Castrello pauses: “But I want to help more.”