Chicagoans help repair orphanage, churches in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

JUNCOS, Puerto Rico (WLS) -- The Chicago area has stepped up to help with the massive recovery effort in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in September.

This week, among those helping out here are Chicago's Catholic Extension and a group of friends linked to the Chicago music festival Riotfest.

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A group of Chicagoans are helping to rebuild La Casa De Todos, an orphanage in Puerto Rico that was damaged by Hurricane Maria.

The group of eight Chicagoans, including Jeremy Scheuch, creative director of the Riot Fest music festival; Danielle Colby, of the "American Pickers" TV show; and Louie Mendicino, general manager of the Cobra Lounge in the West Town neighborhood, are in Puerto Rico this week to repair a hurricane-damaged orphanage.

"Some U.S. citizens are in need, these kids need a roof, so we're doing it for them," Mendicino said as he worked on the building.

The orphanage, named La Casa De Todos, which translates to "a home for everybody," is located in Juncos - about 50 miles southwest of San Juan. About two dozen children live at the orphanage.

"It had a special place in my heart because these kids are so fantastic and deserve so much and unfortunately don't have a voice," Colby said.

"We can't help the entire island, but we know we can do a lot in one place and this is a place we knew instantly, 'Yup, this is where we're going to be,'" Scheuch said.

The trio, along with their friends, are raising money through events and a GoFundMe page to buy materials needed to fix the roof, which was torn off the orphanage's kitchen.

The home for children was founded by Sister Carmen Carmona 37 years ago.

The arrival of the Chicagoans is a blessing to her.

"Jesus respond to my prayers and send you here to help me," Carmona said.

The group will be in Puerto Rico for about a week, but could be back as there is more work to be done.

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Chicago's Cardinal Blase Cupich toured churches in Puerto Rico that were damaged by Hurricane Maria.

Chicago's Cardinal Blase Cupich is in Puerto Rico this week to survey damage from Hurricane Maria at the request of Pope Francis. It's been nearly three months since that hurricane hit.

Inside the cathedral in Caguas, Puerto Rico, masses cannot be held because the roof has holes in it and water still puddles on the floor.

"They have about a million dollars' worth of damage with the roof and then the pews, and they think it's going to take another six months," Cupich said Tuesday.

Take a drive into Punta Santiago on the island's eastern coast and you'll see destruction that will give anyone pause. Inland, near campo Rico, a bridge that residents must use every day has been decimated.

"There are a lot of people suffering here. And we have to remember they're Americans. These are American citizens who are suffering dearly. We owe them better," Cupich said.

Other churches through the island are badly in need of repair, including one which had a palm tree fall on it.

Chicago's Catholic Extension manages donations and the funding for recovery churches and their staff across the island.

"We're in this for the long haul. We know we're in this potentially for a five, and maybe a 10-year process," said Joe Boland, Catholic Extension vice president of mission.


The slow recovery is a personal dilemma for Chicagoan Carmen Claudio and her husband, Hector. The hurricane soured their retirement dream, and the couple plan to move back to Chicago.

"I didn't think we were going to make it," said Claudio, who retired in Puerto Rico. "I thought that the wind was hovering over, was going to take us away ... I thought that we would never see our kids and our grandkids again and I still think about it. And when I talk about it, I want to cry."

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Drone camera captures an aerial view of Dorado, just outside San Juan, Puerto Rico. Blue tarps still cover many hurricane damaged rooftops.

Cardinal Cupich will be in Puerto Rico all week. Check back for on-air and online updates.

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