Puerto Rican workers find support in Steamboat Springs
By JOHN RUSSELL
Nov. 18, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — When Carlos Acosta arrived in Steamboat Springs in December 2016, he knew he would have a job, a steady source of income to support himself and a little extra to send back to his family in Puerto Rico.
But it's the things he never expected that have made Steamboat feel like home.
"It's the feeling that the people here in Steamboat have reached out, and even before this happened, they have reached out to us and made us feel at home," Acosta said. "They have just been very helpful and very welcoming here in Steamboat. It's uplifting that we can arrive at a place and be totally unknown, and then within a couple of months, we are knee deep in the community."
He says the support he has received in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island he calls home, has been overwhelming. Those feelings are shared by many in Steamboat's Puerto Rican community, which has grown the past several years as the hospitality industry reaches beyond the city limits to fill positions.
Acosta, who used to work in the film industry in Puerto Rico, and his friend Efrain Candelaria are employed by Resort Group. Last year, Resort Group recruited about 25 people to come to Steamboat, and Acosta estimates the Puerto Rican community in Steamboat at around 100 people.
Candelaria left Puerto Rico three years ago to find work here in Steamboat Springs. He left behind a home and his family to come to America to find work, something that he could not secure on his home island of Puerto Rico. He has spent the last three years earning money to support his family back home and saving as much as possible with hopes of returning to Puerto Rico when the economy there recovers.
"Luckily, I have had communication with my family, and everyone is OK," Candelaria said through an interpreter.
But when Hurricane Irma made its way past Puerto Rico Sept.5, followed by Hurricane Maria a few weeks later, Candelaria said he was unable to communicate with his family for seven weeks.
Family members sent Candelaria photographs of his home, which was ravaged by flood waters and had a large part of the roof torn off by hurricane-force winds that reached more than 175 mph.
"It came out of the blue, and nobody was prepared for it," he said. "It's been hard because I want to visit my family, but there is nothing that I can do if I go back."
He has not seen his family in nearly three years and relies on his cell phone to stays in contact.
"My family is OK," Candelaria said. "They are currently living in my home, but the water came straight through the windows and half the roof got ripped off."
His family members were able to find materials in the debris to complete makeshift repairs to make the home livable.
Both men believe it's their role to stay on the mainland and earn money that their families can use to rebuild their lives. Acosta is sending money but said his family really needs basic items that are not available in Puerto Rico at this time.
The two men are thankful for the support they have found here.
"A lot of people, if not all the people in the company (Resort Group), and in the community, have really reached out even if to just give emotional support," Acosta said. "That has been big."
When Carla Von Thaden and a committee of employees at Mountain Resorts heard about the devastation in Puerto Rico, they immediately looked for ways to help.
"We wanted to do something to help Puerto Rico and Mexico with their devastation from the recent natural disasters," Von Thaden said. "So many businesses in Steamboat are supported by a labor force from these two countries, and we would like to do our part to show our concern in a very tangible way."
The group held a fundraiser at the Depot Art Center Nov. 10, which included a silent and live auction of new and used art.
Information from: Steamboat Pilot & Today, http://steamboatpilot.com/