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Paying it forward in Puerto Rico: Volunteers taking a moment between deliveries

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VBGB Flashback

Elisabeth Rohm in Puerto Rico, Post-Hurricane Maria

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In September 2017, actress Elisabeth Rohm was in Puerto Rico shooting the television series, The Oath, when Hurricane Irma swept through the Caribbean. "It ripped through, disfranchising millions of people," recalls Rohm, our #VBGivesBack woman of the quarter. "Then, a week or so after, we thought we were clear."

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We all know what happened next. Ten days later, on the heels of Irma, came Hurricane Maria. She absolutely devastated the island.

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This is Rohm's story of the days that followed. As a longtime volunteer with the American Red Cross (learn more here), her first instinct was to pound the pavement and help those in need—on the ground, in the moment.

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Essay

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"Puerto Rico was where my philanthropy and my work crossed paths for the first time in a really significant way. After Hurricane Maria, I called the Red Cross and told them I had to volunteer on my days off from filming. The city was plunged into darkness. People in remote regions were without water. The most basic needs weren't being met.

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"I worked with Winnie Romeril, a disaster responder with the Red Cross, to get generators out to families who had children on life support. Because electricity was down, these children were going to die if they didn't have generators to keep them going. So with a small team, we brought generators to people's homes all through San Juan.

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"You have no idea what these families were going through. Mold was growing on their walls. They had cords running from one house to another, just so their child could stay alive… this on top of what they've already gone through with their child.

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"We met a mother who had two daughters on life support—both had brain damage. If we hadn't shown up, these children would not have made it another day. Every moment we encountered was a life-or-death situation. You can imagine how intense and emotional an experience this was.

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"It was all very human. You don't just drop the generator, say good luck and leave. You sit there with them. You talk to them about what they've been through. You meet their children. It wasn't just a need for generators that was being met; it was the human contact and touch they needed, the comfort.

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"We were all sharing this experience together. The love between the volunteers and the families—and the relationships that grew from those intimate moments together in their homes—I've never experienced anything like that. The friendship that comes out of that compassionate moment—it's so pure, it changes you. To come in so humbly and give these families what they needed will forever be burned in my memory as one of the greatest days of my life."

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At a home-care agency with families who received a generator for their medically fragile children

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Delivering generators in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, 2017 (with fellow volunteer Winnie Romeril, middle)

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