There are few things that put as much fear and anxiety in our hearts than knowing our loved ones are in need. For Chicago dancer Richard Peña, hearing news and watching coverage of Hurricane Maria did just that. Originally from Puerto Rico, Richard has been struggling to connect with the family he has on the island, who are trapped in increasingly difficult circumstances. Although unable to leave Chicago and make it to his loved ones, Richard is determined to help his family and his beloved Puerto Rico. DancerMusic’s Kristi Licera caught up with Richard to learn more about how Hurricane Maria has affected him, and what steps he has already taken to help Puerto Rico now.
Kristi: I recently read a social media post, describing how your mother is doing that brought tears to my eyes. How are she and your family
doing out in Puerto Rico?
Richard: Honestly, I don’t quite know how she is doing. I have not been able to spend a full minute with her on the phone. Two out of three times I have tried to talk to her, the connection is so choppy that I can barely hear her repeating, “I’m ok”. My mother has a very loving husband, and I know she is strong and can keep her chin up. I do not have a lot of information, but what I do know is that my mom is trying to get her parents on a flight out of Puerto Rico. My grandmother needs more medical help than can be provided, and the last thing I heard was that their flight was cancelled.
I have looked up tickets to try and go back home – part of me does not want to, because I do not want to consume the few resources that are there. The tickets to get out of Puerto Rico are over a thousand dollars. They are not making it easy for people to get out. People have been camping out in the airport terminals for almost a week, waiting for supplies that have not come. Everyone’s heart is broken in Puerto Rico because it doesn’t look like home anymore.
Everyone’s heart is broken in Puerto Rico because it doesn’t look like home anymore.
Kristi: Tell us more about “Sweating for Puerto Rico” and your fundraising efforts. How was this event created, and how do the donations aid those in need?
Richard: The event came to me because of Hurricane Maria. I am originally from Puerto Rico, and I couldn’t do much to get to my family and physically help. As a dancer, I don’t make a ton of money that I can donate, so I went back to what I do every single day, which is dance and fitness. I am so lucky that I work at One Hundred Fitness, where the event will take place. I pitched the idea of the fundraiser to Kyle, the owner of the studio, and he was immediately on board. I will be teaching two donation-based, one hour cardio dance classes, with all proceeds donated to hurricane relief efforts.
I tried to be realistic about my fundraising goal, and set my GoFundMe to $800. I just checked the page this morning, and to my surprise, the goal has already been exceeded! I cannot express how grateful I am to the One Hundred Fitness clients that donated, and to all of my friends and peers that have contributed. We are still looking at the best way and fund to donate to – our front runner is Unidos Por Puerto Rico, an organization that supports all general relief efforts. It tears my heart apart to look at the photos of the aftermath, but the most important aspect of this fundraiser is spreading awareness and getting others to see what is happening.
It tears my heart apart to look at the photos of the aftermath, but the most important aspect of this fundraiser is spreading awareness and getting others to see what is happening.
“Sweating for Puerto Rico” will take place at One Hundred Fitness on Wednesday, September 27 at 8PM and Saturday, September 30 at 12:30PM. Reserve your spot via the event page on Facebook. If you are unable to attend the classes but would still like to contribute, visit Sweating for Puerto Rico on GoFundMe.
For more on Hurricane Maria, DancerMusic recommends:
Hurricane Statistics from Wunderground– stay up to date with weather conditions in Puerto Rico, plus statistics to help put the severity of this weather event in perspective
Photos + Before/After of Puerto Rico from Mashable – if the photo series doesn’t tug at your heart strings, check out the Digital Globe features, which have sliders that reveal before and after images of the island.