Local Hurricane Maria survivors celebrate milestone in starting new lives

Hampden County

Thursday was graduation day for Hurricane Maria survivors who’ve begun new lives in western Massachusetts.

Thirty men and women successfully completed five months of study at Holyoke Community College. They improved their English speaking skills as well as adapting the American culture preparing them for jobs.

With help from MassHire’s Holyoke Career Center, Maria Crespo Santos found a nursing position. “The program helped me a lot because I learned more of English,” she said.

Each diploma represented a success story for these people from Puerto Rico, many of whom came from the island with next to nothing after Hurricane Maria devastated their island home.

“They really bonded as a group and dug in,” Kermit Dunkelberg of HCC explained. “And we had career support for them as well.”

That help has enabled Carlos Martinez to chart his career in western Massachusetts as he successfully completed five months of intensive training to acclimate himself to his new surroundings. He told 22News “I want to work in [the] housing department because I was in [the] housing department for 25 years in Puerto Rico.”

Thursday’s graduation festivities included a feast of traditional Puerto Rican food.

Organizers from Holyoke Community College promised this would be just the first of many festive occasions celebrating a renewal of life and livelihood.

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