Amy Franklin-McFarland and her husband Brad showed not hesitation when asked if they could help, with what is now known as Water Filters for Puerto Rico. The impact they had on their community and island of Puerto Rico did not go unnoticed.
In February, Amy was asked to share her experience as the Keynote Speaker at the annual National Honor Society Induction Ceremony, addresing students, parents, and staff from Ramey School in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. She has graciously allowed us to share her speech with you.
Greetings students, parents, faculty, and administration of Ramey School, it is with great honor that I stand before you at this prestigious event to induct this year’s students of the National Junior Honor Society and National Honor Society. Thank you so much for the invitation to speak and for the opportunity to address our future leaders.
When I received the invitation as guest speaker for this year’s induction ceremony, I initially thought, “Wow! What an honor! BUT…nooooo way….I can’t speak in front of all those people and I don’t have time right now to sit and think and write and edit and revise and practice.” I just don’t have the time! But then I stopped and realized that when it comes to community service (the topic I was asked to speak about) that “time” is a precious unit of measurement that defines our lives and how we live it.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle & bustle of the daily demands of work, chores, assignments, and family responsibilities, it’s pretty easy to NOT find time for community service. We often find ourselves thinking, I wish I could…I really want to…but I just don’t have the time right now. Or we might even catch ourselves thinking, Do I really have to? It’s the weekend! Or…Ugggghhh…I don’t want to volunteer today, but I know it’s gonna’ look good on my NHS application; (humph) I guess I gotta’ go.” And you know what? I’ve caught myself thinking similar thoughts a million times.
There have been plenty of times when community service just wasn’t on my daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly agenda. But, when I stop and look back over time…over the course of my life, I realize that somehow, somewhere, I was able to find the time. And I guess plenty of it because I started participating in community service when I was in high school volunteering for several wildlife rehabilitation centers- mostly because I liked animals. And then I continued to do so in college, maybe because it was a requirement, maybe because I wanted to.
But it was the experience I had immediately after college, that changed my life and my perspective on volunteering and community service forever. It was the two years I spent in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I knew since I was 16 years old that I wanted to join the Peace Corps; it must have been God’s plan for me because that was my most pivotal, life-changing, eye-opening, inspiring and motivating experience that I have ever had. Well, except for becoming a mom….but that’s a whole different speech to give.
While Peace Corps was amazing in many, many respects (one of them being that that’s where I met Mr. Mac), it was also extremely difficult. But I often find that our greatest challenges give us our greatest rewards. Looking back to those two years of living without electricity, running water, and of course, Internet, seems impossible. But, it was that experience that gave Mr. Mac and I the confidence that we could stay in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Living without water, electricity, and Internet? We got this! We’re Peace Corps Volunteers!
While Peace Corps gave us the preparation to ride out the aftermath of the storm, it also gave us the foundation for serving our community when our community was in dire need. In fact, we decided not to leave because we felt passionately that we should stay and we should help and we should figure out how to volunteer. The first 3 weeks after Maria were not only physically and mentally exhausting; it was frightening and disorientating. Days dragged on, and we tried to search for volunteer opportunities, but the lack of communication around the Island made it very difficult to figure anything out. I remember feeling really frustrated because I wanted to help, I wanted to volunteer, but nothing was happening.
But suddenly, one day, out of the blue, in early October, a friend (Chris Martin) showed up at our house with 100 simple, gravity-fed water filters. He flew in from DC to volunteer his time in the relief effort, and he brought some water filters donated by some mutual friends, Sheila and Michael Sierts, who had lived in Puerto Rico and after their personal experience with Hurricane Irma on the West coast of Florida, they wanted to donate something to help Puerto Rico. I’ll always remember that day when Mr. Mac told me, “We’ve got the perfect project. We’ve got water filters.” All the frustration and anxiety of being “stuck” in the aftermath of the storm, suddenly lifted, and I felt an awesome sense of calm and wonder fill me as I realized that we suddenly had a purpose.
We were meant to stay to fulfill a purpose – which turned out to be the greatest community service project Mr. Mac and I have ever been involved in. We gave away the first 100 filters in a couple days. Immediately, the Sierts family went to work fundraising through their church and social media to send another shipment of water filters. This was the beginning of Water Filters for Puerto Rico. With the amazing effort, dedication, and passion from Sheila and Michael Sierts and their three children, they have raised almost $30,000 in donations through a carefully-crafted online social media campaign – which in turn gave Mr. Mac and I the opportunity to donate almost 3,000 water filters around the Island.
With the help of friends and Ramey staff like Mrs. Aileen Rivera, Mr. Tim Proskauer, Ms. Leslie McClammy, Ms.Marta Riviere, Ms. Linden Ferraro, and Ramey students like Paulo Riverie, who helped us reach remote and close-by communities in need. We even created a partnership with a well-known relief group led by Jason Maddy known as Veterans for Disaster Relief. He was recently featured on the Today Show. Jason has helped us reach inaccessible areas of the Island to give people clean, potable water. Helping create Water Filters for Puerto Rico has been an amazing journey – and I strongly feel that Mr. Mac and I have to give a lot of the credit to Peace Corps – the organization that instilled in us a strong ethic for community service and leadership.
Since leadership is a core-value for the National Honor Society, I would like to share this memorable anecdote concerning community leaders and our work with Water Filters for Puerto Rico. The story starts at the Ramey Makeshift Market, on November 29th, 2017 when we met a kind and enthusiastic man named Luis Cordero. Luis brought his bucket and received a free water filter – just like hundreds of people before him had done. But Luis was different; he saw the potential for making an impact on his own community. He wanted to take a leadership role and organize an event for Water Filters for PR at his church in Isabella. “Fantastico! Nos podemos hacerlo!”, I enthusiastically replied after he pitched his idea.
For several weeks, we talked on the phone to ensure the details were in place. With the most important detail being – BRING A BUCKET! Our slogan is: Nosotros tenemos los filtros y tu traes el balde y juntos podemos construir comunidades saludables. We have the filters, you bring the bucket and together we can build healthy communities. Why do we ask people to bring a bucket? We feel that if people contribute to making the filter, not only are they taking ownership, but they also are making an investment in securing clean water for their family. We give something; they give something, and together we can build healthy communities.
As former Peace Corps Volunteers, my husband and I understand the importance of sustainability. As teachers, we understand that we can’t always be the “sage on the stage” but aim to be the “guide on the side.” I think Luis made us realize that we can put the responsibility of organizing events into the hands of community leaders. With faith and trust, we can give the responsibility to community members, and we can be the guide on the side who facilitates rather than orchestrates. I believe this is the secret to sustainability.
But is Luis unique in respect to his vision, enthusiasm, and desire to help people in his community? No! There are many people who feel his same passion for community service. There are many, many, many people in Puerto Rico, ordinary citizens, who choose to do extraordinary things! The news paints a grim picture of this Island devastated by a hurricane, but does the news highlight the heroes who are helping to rebuild, who are helping their communities? With all the sadness and devastation around us, I have never felt a more renewed faith in humanity as I look around and see how extraordinary rises from the ordinary. Like the Phoenix rising so does compassion. We can see that from the ashes of destruction and devastation can rise compassion, unity, and community service; we can see how ordinary people can become extraordinary community leaders.
Luis organized an amazing event – one of our best! We gave away 130 filters that day. He did all the hard work. We just showed up with filters and a drill. Easy!
Now, fast-forward, to where we are today with Water Filters for Puerto Rico. Well, lamentablemente (lam-en-tab-le-mente) unfortunately, due to the daily demands of life – due to time constraints and rasing a family, we just recently handed over the project to two amazing community leaders who have shown great dedication to the organization. Their names are Alida Pagan and Carmen Carrero. Their initiative to organize events and their dedication to the cause, made us feel confident that we are leaving the organization in loving hands.
While it is sad to admit that “I just don’t have time” for it anymore, I also realize that the time we could give was instrumental in the Island’s recovery. The time we could give was memorable and meaningful to us. The time we could give made an impact on our sons’ lives and how they view community service.
So, maybe it isn’t about “finding time” or “not finding time,” but maybe it’s about seizing opportunities when life’s path presents them to you. We must aprovechar! We must Carpe Diem! Because those precious units of measurement just keep on ticking away, and one day… we will look back and measure our success not in the money we made, but in the lives that we were able to affect.
So, National Junior Honor Society and National Honor Society Inductees, I congratulate you on this amazing achievement. May this be a beautiful blessing in your life’s journey, and may you seize opportunities that can positively affect the people and communities you serve.