PATERSON, NJ - Ravaged by Hurricane Maria less than two years ago, and thrown into political chaos earlier this summer, the island of Puerto Rico will continue to rise stonger than ever, several speakers said at Paterson City Hall on Saturday.
Leading the ceremony that saw the flag of the U.S. territory hoisted in front of city hall was Eddie Gonzalez, President of the Puerto Rican Parade Committee, who said that the event should serve as a "call for unity," not just for Puerto Ricans living in Paterson but all residents. "Let's get together and make something great happen."
"It's great to have a festival, to raise a flag," Gonzalez continued, "but what have we done for the community, for our youth," he asked, vowing that in the years to come the organization behind the flag raising, now in its 47th year, is committed to having an even greater impact.
While local leaders such as Mayor Andre Sayegh, City Council President Martiza Davila, and Deputy Mayor Eli Burgos praised the community for their contributions to the Silk City, with Sayegh saying that "Paterson is better place because Puerto Ricans call it home," the most passionate comments were delivered by Senator Nellie Pou.
Despite recent challenges, Pou said, Puerto Rico, which she referred to as an "island of enchantment," will rise again. "We will always understand the strength of our community and love of our island."
"Puerto Rico will continue to rise!"
Contributing to the celebratory tone of the event was the recognition of four individuals for their contributions to the local community including recently retired Paterson Police Officer Arsenio "Chano" Sanchez, Audrey Cartwright, a fixture in Paterson's Office of the Mayor, and longtime community standout Maggie Rodriguez.
The final award, minted as the Youth Service Award, went to Jayden Perez, an 11-year-old from Woodland Park who is also the Founder of From the Bottom of My Heart, a non-profit he established with the help of his parents to "help the less fortunate the things they need."
Though at the time he had never even been to Puerto Rico the devastation caused by Hurrican Maria drove him to act. "He wanted to donate his own toys," his mother Ana Roasdo recounted. "Instead he organized a drive that collected 1,100 toys."
"I did not think about it," Jayden told the crowd. "I knew I had to do it. Something in my heart said I had to do it."
Asked where the inspiration to help others comes from at such a young age Jayden told TAPinto Paterson that "my parents raised me to be as kind as I can be." On Sunday Jayden will lead an effort in his hometown to fill nearly 400 backpacks with school supplies for Paterson children.
By a resolution passed by the Paterson City Council the flag raising also kicked off Puerto Rican Heritage Week which will run until August 25 culminating with a one-day, music filled, festival on Saturday, August 24 at 80 Prospect Street. The festival will run from 12:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m.
Volunteers are invited to help in Jayden's effort at the Woodland Park Boys & Girls Club, 8 Memorial Drive, beginning at 2:00 p.m.