After Rodriguez and Torres spoke, Saturday’s attendees were treated to lunch, followed by Zumba and salsa dance classes. Velez said the event was intended to honor the joy and resiliency of the Puerto Rican people.
“I don’t want Puerto Rico to simply be a sob story,” she said. “I want to celebrate the culture. We’re a resilient people.”
Maria Velazquez, M.D., director of the UF College of Medicine Anaclerio Learning and Assessment Center, assisted Velez in her efforts to begin the Initiative. Velazquez’s mother and four siblings live in Puerto Rico.
“As a Puerto Rican living off the island, I’ve personally felt very guilty for eating warm foods, taking warm showers, even drinking water from the faucet,” she said. “Lymaries and I realized very quickly that we needed to give back something meaningful, supplies they really need.”
Through a series of events over the next few months, the initiative aims to raise enough funds to purchase three DIVVY water filtration systems. One system is capable of creating 2,500-6,000 gallons of clean water each day, enough for an entire community. Each system costs about $7,700, so Velez and Velazquez hope to raise $30,000 for the systems and the supply plane.
Mike Lukowski, M.D., a 1977 graduate of the UF College of Medicine and CEO and flight operations director for Gainesville-based airline University Air Center, will fly the supplies the initiative collects to Puerto Rico.
“We’ll bring basic medical supplies that they may not have available to them,” he said. “We want to reestablish basic medical care in the areas that are struggling to get back on their feet.”
Velazquez said global aid efforts like Velez’s Puerto Rico Relief Initiative are an integral part of a modern medical education.
“From day one, we teach the medical students that they are citizens of the world,” Velazquez said.” They’re in this program to help others, especially those without the means or those living in places without access to care. Puerto Rico is one of those places right now. I’m very proud of Lymaries’s efforts.”