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CT Women Organize Effort To Welcome Students From Hurricane-Ravaged Puerto Rico

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (CBSNewYork) – As Puerto Rico struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria, three women in Connecticut are welcoming evacuees to their community.

As CBS2’s Jessica Layton reported, the women are trying to help others by applying lessons they learned after another tragedy.

Sisters Yaeesbeth and Neyleannie are settling into a new school year 1,600 miles from their home. Yaseesbeth said they cried when they left Puerto Rico, but their parents knew they’d be better off here.

The sisters are now living with their grandmother in New Britain, Connecticut – a community that wants to be a model for helping in the aftermath of disasters.

“Our biggest worry was we need the students to feel OK. We need the children and their families to feel OK and welcome when they come here,” said Nancy Serra, Superintendent of the Consolidated School District of New Britain.

Serra, Central Connecticut State University President Dr. Zulma Toro and Nelba Marquez-Greene, who started the Ana Grace Project after losing her daughter in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, are the driving force behind the effort.

“There are lessons in Newtown that I won’t let got to waste,” Marquez-Greene said.

Helping Puerto Rico hits home for her, since her parents are still on the island. In a photo taken after Hurricane Maria hit, her mother is holding a flower as a sign to her daughter that she’s OK.

“If more communities do what we are doing in New Britain, this country would be a lot better,” Dr. Zulma Toro said.

The three women are organizing a welcome center, social and emotional support for the students, and help with college tuition.

“If this is the thing we’re able to do well and welcome these families, then I can feel it is an effort worthy of CCSU and my daughter’s name,” said Marquez-Greene. “Because I don’t just put my daughter’s name on anything,”

The sisters said their new teachers have been helping and their English is getting better. They also said they are thinking about how much they have when Puerto Rico still needs so much.

The group is also working to provide aid to Puerto Rico by sending supplies to specific families they’ve identified with help from the community.

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