They were never meant to rebuild or build homes. As a young foundation, VOCES, Fundación Topy Mamery was focused on providing music and art therapy to children removed from their homes who were living in shelters. Then, Hurricane María hit and many of the homes where they provided their services suffered severe damages. And, then the founders of VOCES decided they just had to do more.
The organization was founded in 2016 by Roxana Mamery, one of Topy’s daughters, in gratitude for the outpouring of sympathy from the community and as way to honor her father’s memory. Carlos “Topy” Mamery, a well-known producer in Puerto Rico, had died at 55 of a massive heart attack. Yet as the newly created foundation saw the extent of the damage, their members saw the need to respond. “We submitted a grant proposal to United for Puerto Rico to build 16 homes and repair five shelters for kids,” said Josean Feliciano, Vice-President of the organization.
Later they reached an agreement with the Cercadillo community in Cayey to build 8 homes and submitted a second grant proposal to United for Puerto Rico. In total, between both grants, they have received $277,621 in funds to build or rebuild a total of 30 homes and or shelters, impacting 175 people in total, 99 of them children.
“They key for this organization to expand its role in such a short period of time in the aftermath of a catastrophe has been its ability to build alliances, both with other organizations, the community and with the government,” said Mariely Rivera, Executive Director of United for Puerto Rico. Dr. Migna Rivera, a social worker, psychologist and Compliance Officer for United for Puerto Rico, added “They have done an incredible job and are keen on reporting and compliance, which builds on their credibility.”
Feliciano explained that they have been able to expand their reach by tapping into FEMA’s VALOR (Voluntary Agencies Leading and Organizing Repair) program to obtain free part of the construction materials needed. They have been able to continue to leverage funds with support from the National Lumber and Hardware chain.
“When we go into a community where we have identified a need, we hire local contractors,” said the Vice-President of the organization who says he has a 40-hour regular job and another 40 hour one serving Voces. Feliciano also explained that to counter the scarcity in construction materials they have built relationships with local hardware stores, who call them when materials arrive, so they may continue with the program.
The expansion of their mission has also been driven by the needs they encounter. “Sometimes, we find them by pure causality.” That was how they found Don Héctor Ríos, who had received $12,000 to rebuild his home. His prior dwelling had been made of wood and he was determined to rebuild it in concrete, to avoid suffering a similar fate in the future with another strong hurricane. Yet, he had run out of funds.
When they recently visited Cayey, Feliciano said they were particularly touched by Don José de Jesús, a 70-year-old veteran who had lost his home and belongings and did not have the strength to remove the debris of what remained of his former house. Another case is Don José Acevedo, 75, from Caguas, who also lost his home and VOCES volunteers joined forces with volunteers from Mentes en Acción, another nonprofit, to clear the lot and ready it for the future construction of the home. They have continued to collaborate in helping the elderly with clean-ups of their homes. They recently helped Don Victoriano Cruz, 91, clean his home in Aguadilla, which had been completely flooded. After the clean- up, in which volunteers from the Miami Edelman office participated, they furnished his home and will soon work on repairing his roof.
Voces’ ability to shift focus to address the needs they find along the way and their capacity to draw on other collaborators to expand their reach continues. The latest case they identified was in Yabucoa, where Hurricane María first touched Puerto Rico. The town is still deep in crisis with very few areas that have electric power and many who are going hungry. They called on United for Puerto Rico and connected them with another organization that provides food and water. The work goes on. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/vocesfundacion/ and www.unitedfopruertorico.com.