The past year hit Puerto Rico hard. Still recovering from Hurricane Maria, changes in government, earthquakes, the pandemic and resulting economic downturn made life for city and rural residents difficult. These groups faced different but equally challenging solutions. Rural populations face greater poverty and more significant infrastructure needs, while urban dwellers endure greater health challenges due to overcrowding and limited resources.
Local non-profit organizations and people running them found strength and skills to meet the challenges of their fellow Puerto Rican citizens through the guidance and mentoring skills of both NeighborWorks and other leaders who gave their time and abilities to help the island’s helpers and support their success.
Maria Garciaz, Chief Executive Officer of NeighborWorks Salt Lake (Utah) says as a mentor, “I serve as an experienced sounding board. Using my three decades of lived experiences, I found my mentee often has the answers to her own questions. Often, through our conversations, solutions arise.”
She believes “the challenges of mentoring individuals in the different environments of rural versus urban are similar although the results and solutions can differ widely.”
Garciaz believes that she has found inspiration from those she mentored and renewed passion for her work. “I learn from their creative solutions to the challenges they face. This experience prompts me to re-evaluate my own organization’s best practices.”
Joan Straussman Brandon, NE Regional Vice President for NeighborWorks also served as a mentor. She regards the program as one that builds capacity leadership.
“Six organizations representative of all cross sectors of the island were selected to participate in a competitive process.” she says.” The object is to build the leadership capabilities of these six organizations so they can better serve the island’s people. I have a personal connection to Puerto Rico and therefore understand the island’s needs intimately. The program focused on helping the island’s nonprofit organizations to better ensure affordable housing, provide financial literacy counseling and help to keep residents in their homes.”
As well as the mentoring/cohort development, NeighborWorks sent $50,000 to each of the six selected organizations as well as an additional $10,000 to assist in technology development.
Elizabeth Colon-Rivera, Executive Director, Ponce NHS, was Garciaz’s mentee. Her organization assists with the needs of the island’s rural population. She explains the program helped her improve internal processes that in turn improved her marketing, fundraising and workforce performance.
“Since we are both executive directors, we shared ideas and I received leadership guidance that helped me improve my relationship with my staff and become their cheerleader. I realized my organization’s greatest asset was my team and their abilities and skills.”
“I learned to allow my staff to take control of their own responsibilities and the technology assistance introduced me and my team to an app called Salesforce which helped revolutionize the way we communicate and share information”