‘We care about what happened’

Former Besser principal traveling to Puerto Rico to rebuild hurricane-ravaged school

Courtesy Photo This photo, provided by former Besser Elementary School Principal Eric Cardwell, shows one of the classrooms at Colegio Bautista in Puerto Rico that was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

ALPENA – In a couple of weeks, former Besser Elementary School Principal Eric Cardwell will travel to Puerto Rico to help rebuild a school that was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Cardwell, who is currently the National Association of Elementary School Principals president, will be in Juncos, Puerto Rico from Jan. 22 to 28 to offer assistance to Colegio Bautista, one of the schools destroyed by the hurricane. The school is home to 120 students from kindergarten to ninth grade. Cardwell is among 45 educators and employees from the nonprofit Lifetouch Memory Mission traveling to Puerto Rico to offer assistance to the school.

“This provides a prime opportunity for us to help support in a rebuilding effort for an island that, from what I understand, was completely devastated,” Cardwell said. “I think it’s a fantastic choice by Lifetouch.”

The trip starts with a team orientation in Atlanta, Ga. on Jan. 21 and then all the volunteers will go to Puerto Rico on Jan. 22 to start helping with the rebuild of the school. On. Jan. 24, the volunteers will take individual portraits and classroom group pictures of the students and on Jan. 27, the volunteers will deliver the photos to the families.

“I think it’s going to be an incredible experience,” Cardwell said.

The educators and employees will help with restoration of the school. Because of Hurricane Maria, sections of the school’s roof are gone, electrical cords are tangled, trees are uprooted, fences are gone, and a small playground and trampoline were turned upside down.

Cardwell said they will be helping rebuild a safety wall for the school, along with restoring basketball courts.

“We’re also bringing donations down,” he said. “I’ll be bringing a suitcase filled with school items down to donate that the school put together specifically as far as what their needs are.”

On Jan. 26, the volunteers will have an opportunity to do home visits with families and interact with students and parents. Cardwell said they’re bringing toys and balloons for the children.

“The big thing for me, personally, is the world is a better place when people reach out and support one another and it’s important when we know one another,” he said. “I think it draws our world, our country closer together when these 44 individuals that have no personal connection to the area are sending a message that we care about what happened with their country and specifically their school.”

Cardwell is scheduled to connect with students in Alpena on Facebook Live to provide an update on the rebuilding process and give trip highlights. His Facebook Live is scheduled for Jan. 25 at 11 a.m. on the Lifetouch Memory Mission Facebook page.

“I’m just excited at the possibility of participating in this,” Cardwell said. “I look forward to giving back, but I think the interaction and the symbolism of being down there that we’re accomplishing something for these folks. Honestly, I can’t imagine what it would be like to go without electricity, without water, without gasoline, some of these modern conveniences that we accept.”

Cardwell is planning on traveling to Oklahoma, Minnesota, New York City, and Los Angeles for different conferences after the Puerto Rico trip. He will be traveling at the end of March to Bangkok, Thailand for an international conference.

Cardwell has been the National Association of Elementary School Principals president since August and said that being president has been an amazing experience, so far.

“I continue to pinch myself that I’m from Alpena, Michigan and I’ve had this opportunity,” he said. “I just feel very grateful for everybody, the people here that have supported me, also the tremendous support I’ve had from across the state and across our nation.”

To learn more about the trip, visit https://lifetouchmemorymission.mediaelc.com/.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.