“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it,” said Helen Keller. When Carmen Ruiz, franchisee at FASTSIGNS® of Daytona Beach, FL, realized a great opportunity to ease the suffering of her fellow man, she decided to transform her travel plans into a mission for God.
Originally from Puerto Rico, when Carmen and her friends first planned a vacation to her home, they had no idea what the following weeks would bring for the small island. Puerto Rico was hit by over 3000 earthquakes in the Guanica area that were felt across the island and compromised building structures, bridges, homes and the wonderful people of Borinquen, with many unable to return to their homes.
After thought and prayer, Carmen and her friends decided not to cancel their trip but rather to change the purpose for their trip, choosing to invest their time assisting in local disaster relief efforts with the support of one Florida-based organization. Not wanting to put anyone in harm’s way, she was careful about asking people to be on the “Mujeres on a Mission” team.
In an amazingly providential turn of events, Carmen Ruiz ran into Maria Davila with Healthy Souls International at a local chamber event. Founded in 2018, Healthy Souls International is a faith-based organization that seeks to be the hands and feet bringing hope, aid, and awareness to people around the world who are undergoing pain, hardship, and suffering from any type of major disaster, emergency, or hazardous conditions.
“Our team is also faith-based, and we don’t do anything without prayer,” Ruiz said. “It felt very much like running into Maria was a Godsend. Everything lined up so perfectly and just easily fell into place.”
Once the two began working together, the preparation phase to help earthquake victims in Puerto Rico took about two weeks. The boots-on-the-ground/command post sponsors team with Carmen included Debra Dagostino, another FASTSIGNS employee, Maria Davila, CEO of Healthy Souls International, Chris Towes CEO, Towes Communications, Inc., Cathlene Belrose CEO of Pink Lotus Massage, Trevors Kamm, President Anomalos Industries and Terri Shrodum, Senior Sales Associate at O'Quinn Insurance Services.
The original plan for the team was to conduct one day of relief work on the trip, but it slowly grew into a three-day mission due to need. Prior to arriving in Puerto Rico, the team collected 3000 pounds of supplies that included 250 lbs of medical supplies, 100 tents, 200 blankets, sleeping bags, first aid supplies and water filtration systems and meals.
The team was set to travel with 30 suitcases filled with supplies and meals through Spirit Airlines. The night prior to the trip, the team was quickly trying to figure out how to ship the tents through the airline in 30 suitcases. They received an anonymous donor call that very night asking what they could do to support their efforts. The donor ultimately paid for the entire cost to send the tent-filled suitcases through JetBlue.
“The amount of support that we received from the FASTSIGNS network, family, friends and our community was overwhelming. It was very touching,” said Ruiz. “You don’t know the kind of impact you’re going to be able to make, and everyone was so supportive from their messages to the overwhelming number of supplies we received.”
The team arrived in Puerto Rico to a room full of supplies and were able to fill a 12-foot box truck. Even though Carmen, Maria and their team were at ground zero, they attribute their success to all of the giving hearts that contributed.
In addition to those who gave both financially and through supplies, Carmen’s father opened his home to the entire group for lodging and others in the community also came to support the team in their relief efforts.
On Saturday, the Mujeres on a Mission team sorted and purchased food. After a quick trip within the city to allow newcomers to experience the island, the team quickly got to work.
Over the course of several days, the team distributed supplies in Lares, Utuado, assessed needs for the revitalization project Casa Betsan for their April 2020 project, visited and distributed supplies in national guarded tent cities (Yauco), visited and distributed supplies in a tent city in Ponce, and visited and distributed supplies on the streets of Ground Zero (Guanica).
On Sunday in Lares, when the team distributed supplies in the mountains, they had to hike up the roads to get to some of the houses for distribution. As they returned, a woman they had met on their way up had made their entire group of 16 a delicious meal.
“We were touched by her appreciation and her willingness to give from what she had,” said Ruiz. “The humility we encountered and the resilience of the people was like nothing I have ever experienced in my life.”
On another day, the team came across a camp that was the only place occupied by people on ground zero that day. These kind souls had gathered all their personal items and started to distribute them as needed to the community. When the team arrived, they handed two suitcases of medical supplies to one of the men, who then pulled out his notepad with the list of needed medicines. He began crying and said, “You guys are the angels we've been praying for, because this is the medicine we’ve been needing.”
“We were told to try not to cry in front of anyone, because they are so embarrassed and really hurting,” said Carmen. “I had to walk away at that moment. There is something that happens inside when you feel like you did something that was on God's list.”
5688 volunteer hours were tracked which included fundraising for supplies needed, travel, boots-on-the-ground time with deliveries and assistance, and assessing future needs.
Because team members’ respective companies paid for their plane tickets and lodging was free, all of the funds collected went directly to supplies for those impacted by the earthquakes. The goal for Mujeres on a Mission was to provide 500 to 1000 meals, but they were able to exceed that by providing 5000 meals (sound similar to a Biblical story?). They also provided over 2.5 million gallons of clean water through filtration systems.
“We made a decision to march forward into this great commission. To leave an impact no matter how large or small was the prophetic vision. We at Healthy Souls International want to help companies like FASTSIGNS make an impact with projects like Mujeres on a Mission,” said Maria Davila, founder of Healthy Souls International.
A smaller team plans to return to the area in an effort to help revitalize a local nursing home to help it open and get off the ground once the COVID-19 Pandemic has passed.
“I thought we were going to Puerto Rico to make an impact, but the impact that this trip had on me was beyond words,” said Carmen Ruiz. “This trip unearthed gratitude within my heart. We often look at success as our image and our wealth, but we really need to be using the platform we have to make an impact for good. While we should be enjoying the luxuries we work hard to acquire, we also need to remember where those blessings came from, pouring some of our blessings out so we can truly change the world. The more blessings we have, the more solutions we can bring to impact the world for good.”
To watch the video of this project, visit the link here.