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The University of Puerto Rico and Hispanic Federation Join in an Effort to Foster Emotional Well-being in Puerto Rico

With a $1.2 million grant from the Hispanic Federation, the UPR-RP will offer mental health services across the island through the PATRIA Project.

San Juan, Puerto Rico - The University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus (UPR-RP) and the Hispanic Federation (HF) have entered a collaborative agreement to offer direct and indirect services through a project that promotes the wellbeing and address the mental health needs of the residents of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane María. Also collaborating in this project are the Arecibo and Humacao UPR campuses as well as nine Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) from across the island.

The initiative has been named PATRIA, Spanish acronym for University Project of Empowerment, Transformation, and Recovery with an Interdisciplinary Approach to Accessible Services. To offer these multilevel services, the project brings together professors, students, and professionals from the fields of psychology, rehabilitation counseling, and social work. The services will be provided at the three campuses, the nine CBOs, and the homes of the most vulnerable members of the community who cannot reach those facilities.

PATRIA is a mental health services project that fosters the recovery, quality of life, and empowerment of citizens after the 2017 hurricanes. It also aims to develop the ability to prepare for future natural disasters by creating effective support systems, promoting therapeutic compliance, and logging vulnerable or high-risk individuals.

The agreement establishes the allocation of $1.210 million granted by HF for a one-year period, of which $450,000 has been assigned to fund stipends for 50 graduate students who will work with the project. These students will receive specialized professional training in trauma management post-disaster and during recovery. The goal is to continue offering these services in an ongoing way. Fundraising efforts are being planned for the second year going forward.

The aim of the interdisciplinary approach is to offer comprehensive services to improve the wellbeing and quality of life of those who have been affected by the 2017 hurricanes and, in the future, by any other natural disaster—children, teenagers, adults, seniors, and vulnerable or special populations. To reach this goal, PATRIA will offer the following services: diagnostic and psychological assessments; individual and group counseling; psychotherapy; strengthening of the support system through individual and group psychoeducational interventions; and support for the adherence to treatment.

“At the Hispanic Federation, we have heard from dozens of local partners and professionals from non-profit organizations in the area of mental health who emphatically stress that individual and collective trauma in Puerto Rico continues to be one of the biggest problems on the island—and the one least spoken about. We joined UPR-PR to develop this 2-year pilot initiative that will allow us to take measures around the crisis and, at the same time, strengthen the capacity of community-based non-profits and the mental health sector. These institutions quickly responded and gave immediate aid to citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane María, and would undoubtedly do the same if another disaster occurs. At the same time, we hope to facilitate the economic challenges faced by students from public universities when they try to complete their professional studies and remain in Puerto Rico to pursue their careers. Our initial commitment of $1.2 million for UPR-RP will provide grants for community organizations, stipends for participating graduate students, and direct and indirect mental health services to thousands of island residents. The Hispanic Federation’s commitment to Puerto Rico continues, and we hope to work with the stigma around mental health in order to contribute to the collective healing of our people,” expressed Charlotte Gossett Navarro, Senior Director of HF in Puerto Rico.

For his part, Dr. Luis A. Ferrao Delgado, Interim Chancellor of UPR-RP, said, “We are highly honored to welcome the Hispanic Federation's initiative, which aligns with our commitment as a university to not only provide an academic education to our students, but also contribute to the well-being of our society.” He added, “This comprehensive effort is an excellent response to the devastating emotional damage left by Hurricane María over a year ago. In the name of our college community and my own, I thank the Hispanic Federation for its support and congratulate everyone who has made this agreement possible, especially our professors Milagros A. Méndez Castillo and Roberto Frontera Benvenutti.

Dr. Milagros A. Méndez Castillo, Director of the Psychology Department of the College of Social Sciences at UPR-RP and principal proponent of the project proposal, explained, “Through this initiative we hope to impact, empower, and provide services in the metropolitan area and the eastern, southern, northern, and central regions of the island, including Vieques and Culebra. Our priority is to offer caring services focused on residents’ well-being, empowerment, and recovery.”

Dr. Luz Towns-Miranda, mother of world-famous artist Lin-Manuel Miranda, is also committed to this work on the island and recently had the opportunity to give a talk and share experiences with students participating in the PATRIA project. Dr. Towns-Miranda said, “The trauma caused by the 2017 hurricanes, combined with the serious economic situation faced by Puerto Ricans, impacts on their emotional health. The PATRIA initiative will provide vital, urgent resources to begin to alleviate this trauma, educate the public, and manage and restore emotional health, at the same time developing and supporting mental healthcare workers today and in the future.”

Similarly, Dr. Roberto Frontera Benvenutti, Director of the Graduate School of Rehabilitation Counseling of the College of Social Sciences at UPR-RP and co-proponent of the project proposal, said, “The initiative promotes greater accessibility to citizens, as the services will be provided in three different UPR campuses—Río Piedras, Humacao, and Arecibo—and at nine community based organizations in different areas across the island; additionally, outreach will be increased through home visits. The organizations chosen will be located in towns near UPR facilities for greater accessibility.”

Graduate psychology student Yineza Vargas expressed: "the PATRIA initiative will allow students working with the project to share and acquire new knowledge, strategies, skills, and competencies focused on natural disasters and trauma therapy, which we can use to better address the needs of the population in the event of future events and to safeguard the holistic well-being of our participants.” Ms. Vargas concluded, “In these times of uncertainty, in which students’ access to stipends and apprenticeships becomes difficult, the PATRIA project allows us to develop our academic and professional skills and, the same time, receive economic support. This will help us reach places we could not access previously.”

For additional information or referrals, please call 787.764.0000 ext. 87422, 87423, 87424 or email proyecto.patria@upr.edu.