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Displaced Hurricane Maria Student Has Found a Home at QCC

October, 2019
  • Quinsigamond Community College student Luceily “Lucy” Ortiz
    Quinsigamond Community College student Luceily “Lucy” Ortiz
  • Damaged caused by Hurricane Maria.
    Damaged caused by Hurricane Maria.
  • Hurricane Maria's destruction of a nearby gas station.
    Hurricane Maria's destruction of a nearby gas station.
  • Surveying the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.
    Surveying the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria, one of the deadliest category 5 hurricanes in recorded history, hit the island of Puerto Rico leaving death and destruction in its wake. For many on the island the hurricane took loved ones, leveled homes and took away basic life necessities that are still being felt today. The storm also displaced thousands of people who came to the United States seeking shelter. Over 400 hurricane-displaced students initially entered the Worcester school systems and today some of those students have graduated from high school and begun college.

One such student is Quinsigamond Community College student Luceily “Lucy” Ortiz.  Ms. Ortiz and her family are from Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, a town of approximately 38,000.  The town took an almost direct hit from the eye of the hurricane. The town had already experienced Hurricane Irma, a category 5 hurricane a scant two weeks prior to Maria. While initially Ms. Oritiz’s family (which consisted of herself, her mother, step-father, brother and sister) was without power, they rode out the storm fairly well.

“Since we had warning about Hurricane Maria we thought it would be like Irma. Yet when Maria hit it was completely devastating…life-changing,” Ms. Ortiz said. “The landscape was completely different. We had strong winds and we got a lot of flooding inside the house. It was a scary moment.”

Hurricane Maria’s full effects came during the night so the utter carnage was not visible until the next day. Ms. Ortiz said that while her family’s home was still standing many homes, even those made from cement were destroyed. The family was able to get in the car and drive around on streets that were sometimes impassable assessing the damage.

“The trees were all burned and there was no power. The damage was massive,” she said. “We lived near a mall and it was so flooded it looked like an ocean. It was all destroyed.”

The family would spend the next days and weeks trying to find supplies and waiting in lines for hours at one of the few supermarkets that was still open. Lines for gas stretched for miles and no one in the area was able to get cell phone service, so they would have to drive a distance to get a signal. Ms. Ortiz’s father lived 20 minutes away and due to the lack of service it took a while before she knew that he was all right.

After a month of living this way the strain became too much for the family and the decision was made to move to the United States and in with her step-father’s mother in Worcester until they got their own home. They waited at the airport for an entire day until they were finally able to board a plane on November 1 that would take them to the states.

“A lot of people on the plane were crying leaving everything behind,” she said.

Five days after arriving in Worcester Ms. Ortiz and her sibling began school in Worcester.

A New Beginning

Ms. Ortiz attended Doherty Memorial High School as a senior along with other students who had also left Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

“We are stable now and have our own place but it was rough in the beginning,” she said, acknowledging the support she received from her teachers and counselors to help her become acclimated. “Our quality of life has greatly improved and we’ve taken a bad experience and made it a great experience.”

In June 2018 Ms. Ortiz graduated from Doherty. Having learned about college and college options while at Doherty, she decided to attend QCC as a psychology major. Her goal is to transfer to a four year school when she completes her studies at QCC.

“I decided to come here because I liked the smaller campus and the transportation was easy. It really was the perfect place to start,” she said.

Since being at QCC, Ms. Ortiz said her entire perspective on things has changed. She has become a Phi Theta Kappa member and volunteers at many of their events. She also has a work study position in QCC’s Food Pantry and Resource Center and is this year’s vice president of the Psi Beta honor Society and the Psychology Club.

“My experience has been a really good one. Everyone is really supportive and patient, from advising to financial aid,” she said. “I don’t regret moving here. I’m doing great at QCC. Things happen for a reason and we got something positive by moving here.”