iLEAD students to help with Puerto Rico recovery efforts

iLEAD students hold up their Backpacks Full of Hope before they embark on a trip to Puerto Rico to help with recovery efforts on the island during spring break 2018. Courtesy Photo
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Instead of spending their spring break relaxing and spending time with friends, a group of students from Santa Clarita Valley International (SCVi) and iLEAD Pacoima are using their spring break to help with the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

“This is the first trip like this where it’s a service trip to help others who need it,” iLEAD CEO Amber Raskin said. “We’ve offered a few cultural experiences a few times in the past and there was some interest in that, but when we asked a bunch of kids, ‘Do you want to go away on your spring break and work?’ There was huge interest. We are really proud of the spirit of our community because they really have a heart to help people.”

The group of 15—which includes teachers, parents and students of all grade levels—plans to spend the week distributing supplies, replanting agriculture and building sustainable shelters for those left homeless following Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

“I’ve just been very fortunate in my life and I thought to give back and what better way to give back then this,” SCVi sophomore Connor Raskin said. “I want to help people there.”

The group also plans to bring “Backpacks Full of Hope” to the island that include much-needed supplies like water filtration system, solar-powered chargers and radios, hand-crank radios, propane-powered stoves, mosquito nets, insect repellent, fruit and vegetable seeds, baby formula and baby diapers.

“Connor came up with this idea to call them Backpacks full of Hope,” Amber Raskin said. “We have backpacks full of supplies that we’re bringing and filling up with things people donated and bringing them to people in Puerto Rico.”

A Backpack Full of Hope that will be distributed to individuals in Puerto Rico as part of the iLEAD service trip during sring break 2018. Courtesy Photo

To gather the supplies, the team asked for items through its online Amazon Wish List and for tax-deductible donations through its GoFundMe page,

“Originally the GoFundMe donations were going toward the cost of the trip itself, but, as we got donations to go toward travel, we decided to use that money to purchase supplies,” Amber Raskin said.

In addition to distributing the Backpacks Full of Hope, the students and volunteers will be spending time with local volunteer organizations on the island that work to build structures and replant agriculture.

“We’re going to be planting and we’re going to help build homes and we’re going to buy more stuff,” fourth grade student Elena Olson-Volding, 9, said. “There’s not enough food or water there and we want them to know that we care.”

iLEAD students hold up their Backpacks Full of Hope at the airport as they head to Puerto Rico to help with recovery efforts on the island during spring break 2018. Courtesy Photo

During the week in Puerto Rico, the team’s itinerary includes spending three days with Para la Naturaleza, a local sustainability group, to help replant native vegetation in Rio Encantado, in Villa Taina and near Hacienda la Esperanza.

The group will also spend two days with Colectivo Verdolaga, to build “Earthships,” or sustainable and hurricane-proof dwellings.

“We’re going to be replanting trees and plants, and we’re going to be building Earth Strips,” Connor Raskin said. “So it’s recycling and you build a habitat that can sustain multiple people and it is hurricane-proof so it’s looking toward the future.”

Some of the students also had their friends write notes of encouragement to give to children on the island, according to iLEAD parent Emily Olson-Volding who is going on the trip two of her children and their grandmother.

“We had visited Puerto Rico before, we went last year and we did so much. We went on a tour, made a lot of friends, went to a beautiful beach,” Emily Olson-Volding said. “It really was a luxurious vacation, but now we’re going to get our hands dirty.”

Because of the overwhelming interest and support for the Puerto Rico service trip, the iLEAD team has decided to continue the spring bring trip each year to different parts of the world that need assistance.

“It’s all been coming together so well so we decided we are going to help the kids do this every spring break,” Amber Raskin said. “Every spring break we’ll call it the Backpacks Full of Hope trip. Next year we’re thinking of going to Ecuador.”

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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