Restoring homes and hope in Puerto Rico
In the coastal town of Salinas, Puerto Rico, Javier Cosme, a carpenter for PEC Contractors, worked to patch holes in a roof that had been damaged by Hurricane Maria. Whenever it rained, water leaked into the rooms below, affecting the day-to-day lives of a family of three. Javier was making the repairs as part of Habitat for Humanity’s ongoing hurricane recovery efforts, generously supported by AbbVie, a research-based global biopharmaceutical company and one of the largest employers on the island.
The family was so grateful for Javier’s work to repair their roof, they offered him and his crew lunch every day. “They want to give what they didn’t have, you know, to make us feel well, when on the contrary, we’re trying to help them,” says Javier, in his native Spanish.
Since 2019, Javier has worked with PEC Contractors, a local small business, to help families in Puerto Rico repair homes affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria. “I solve all the situations that come up along the way in the project,” says the 43-year-old father of two, who does a “bit of everything” in his role as a carpenter, including brickwork, painting and electrical work.
Like the families he helps, Javier understands the importance of having a safe place to call home. After Hurricane Maria, he and his family were forced out of their own house, which was severely damaged by the storm. “I’ve struggled to lift my home back up because of the same thing, but I have the knowledge and ability to fix it,” says Javier, who has been working with his family to rebuild. Javier taught his wife, Karla, his 19-year-old daughter, Lyneshka, and his 18-year-old son, Javier, construction skills to help bring their home back to life. “They learned everything,” Javier says proudly. “From taking down what was left, which was wood, to binding cement to laying blocks to everything.”
Leading with purpose
After the unprecedented 2017 storms, AbbVie donated $50 million to Habitat to help families and communities recover through a holistic program that focuses on home repairs, helping homeowners secure land tenure, advocacy work — and workforce development.
“We are committed to helping families affected by the devastation of Irma and Maria by building and repairing homes in Puerto Rico, and ensuring safe, and resilient shelter,” says Claudia Carravetta, vice president, corporate responsibility and global philanthropy at AbbVie. “This commitment includes creating opportunities for training and employment, which is necessary to help the Puerto Rican economy and families fully rebuild after these disasters.”
“Our work in Puerto Rico targets home repairs, and it also helps build small businesses,” says Kevin Campbell, managing director of Habitat’s Puerto Rico recovery program. “It’s all part of a purposeful strategy to increase the capacity of the construction labor force by training new workers and contribute to the economy by hiring local contractors.”
Ultimately, 650 homes will be repaired through the hurricane recovery program.
“Our work in Puerto Rico targets home repairs, and it also helps build small businesses. It’s all part of a purposeful strategy to increase the capacity of the construction labor force by training new workers and contribute to the economy by hiring local contractors.”— Kevin Campbell, managing director of Habitat’s Puerto Rico recovery program
Businesspeople like Elizabeth Sánchez, owner of PEC Contractors, have benefitted from the steady work the Habitat program brings to them. Javier, who she describes as having a “gift with people,” was one of 10 new team members she was able to employ as a result of working with Habitat. So far, her company has repaired 38 hurricane-damaged homes. “Thanks to Habitat, and to the growth that I’ve had, I’ve been able to buy a lot of equipment, like trucks, that I didn’t have previously,” says Elizabeth.
In addition to working with local small businesses, like PEC Contractors, Habitat recently partnered with a local private university to create Habitat Builds Puerto Rico, a 5-week program that teaches skills like masonry, plumbing and carpentry for those interested in entering the construction field.
The way back home
Javier credits working to repair homes with Habitat as a key part of helping him to support his family throughout their own rebuilding process, as well as allowing him to do good in the world. “It’s benefitted me,” says Javier. “But also it’s being able to serve and be useful to other people.”
He hopes to put the final touches on his home soon. “I still need to finish the bathroom and put up doors and windows,” Javier says. He and his family can’t wait to celebrate holidays and milestones again under their own roof.
Like so many homeowners affected by the storms in Puerto Rico, Javier is looking forward to a bright future in safe and stable home where his family can thrive. With AbbVie’s support, Habitat continues to pursue multiple avenues to that future by creating economic opportunities for workers like Javier and Elizabeth and making more repairs possible for the families they serve, ensuring that both families and communities are more resilient to future disasters.