May 10, 2018

Teen celebrated her Puerto Rican heritage—and raised $14,000 for hurricane survivors

LearnServe fellow Britton Struthers saw a need in her community, and used her training as a social entrepreneur to deliver. Photos courtesy of Britton Struthers

On Sept. 20, 2017, my family and I sat on the couch watching the TV as Hurricane Maria destroyed tree after tree, house after house, and memory after memory of visits to family in Puerto Rico. We waited for almost a week to hear news from our relatives on the island, who we eventually discovered were OK despite some flooding. Other families, however, were not so fortunate. For some, the winds had blown away everything they owned and the waters had raged so thoroughly through their towns that the damage seemed irreparable.

My family and I would watch videos online to see the damage and suffering that occurred and was occurring in Puerto Rico. However, viewing these videos, from the comfort of my own home, actually made me quite uncomfortable, because I knew it was a problem. And as LearnServe taught me, where there is a problem, there is a solution. It wasn’t enough to simply pity the victims of Hurricane Maria. I had to do something. But this “something” couldn’t be just anything. I knew it had to represent the very core of what being Puerto Rican means to me and many others: celebration.

This seed of thought slowly grew until it bloomed into Wepa!Thon. Wepa!Thon was a fundraiser that celebrated the resiliency of the Puerto Rican spirit with traditional foods, music, arts and crafts, and dance from the island. The name Wepa!Thon originated from two things: “wepa,” a Puerto Rican slang term used to hype people up, and “thon,” stemming from the end of “marathon,” an allusion to the Zumba marathon that was an essential feature of the event.

I initially had small goals in mind—an attendance of around 200 people and raising around $5,000. But when I created the Facebook page for the fundraiser, it blew up in likes and shares. My mom and I received a torrent of messages asking if people could bring food to the event, or help lead the Zumba marathon. By the time of the event (only three weeks after we came up with the idea), around 500 people had eaten, danced, and celebrated Puerto Rican culture, while raising close to $14,000! It was absolutely incredible to see the support for Puerto Rico within the community of Northern Virginia. People obviously wanted to help; they simply needed an outlet to do so. Wepa!Thon provided that outlet.

Wepa!Thon celebrated Puerto Rican culture with food, music, and dancing, and also raised money for survivors of Hurricane Maria.

LearnServe taught me that if I love something that’s broken, I have to go and fix it myself, because if I don’t, who will?

During winter break, my family and I traveled to Puerto Rico to donate the money we raised. Half of it went to a charity called Unidos por Puerto Rico, and the other half went to purchasing supplies directly. These supplies were purchased for 40 families who were still in desperate need of basic necessities such as food, water, feminine products, and batteries, despite FEMA’s initial efforts.

During the distribution, the generosity of the people really awed me; people gave selflessly of whatever they had in gratitude, even though my family were the ones who were supposed to be giving. People offered us their food and prayers, even though it seemed they needed the blessings more than we. Most poignantly of all, though, was the happiness and hope the people I met retained despite the Hurricane; the storm may have destroyed their house, but not their hearts.

So, what did LearnServe have to do with this? LearnServe provided the building blocks of entrepreneurial knowledge that I needed to translate this idea from my head to reality. LearnServe assured me that I can be a successful social entrepreneur and have a great impact at any age; that, just because I am only one person does not mean that I can’t harness the influence of a professional corporation; that, if I dream it, I can achieve it. Above all, LearnServe taught me that if I love something that’s broken, I have to go and fix it myself, because if I don’t, who will?

Britton Struthers

Britton Struthers was a 2017 LearnServe Fellow and is a current LearnServe Ambassador. She is a senior at The Potomac School in McLean, Virginia. In the fall, Britton will begin college at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
all stories