Dominica’s hurricane recovery hits close to home for Flagler student

By Brenna DeBlasio |

Coming from an area as hurricane prone as St. Augustine, it is easy to feel sympathy toward our Caribbean neighbors who are suffering from the aftermath of a ravaging hurricane season.

It is even easier to sympathize when one of those directly affected is a member of the Flagler College community.

Hurricane Maria hit Dominica on Sept. 18, causing devastation and damage to the entire island. Now, months after the hurricane hit, Flagler students and faculty are still raising support and donations to send to Dominica, and turning the project into a competition to get the whole school involved.

Nick Cuffy, a student at Flagler College, is from Dominica, and the news of the hurricane hitting his home back in September was difficult for him to hear.

“I was very emotional learning my island was destroyed,” Cuffy said. “It was hard to focus on school and my job.”

Cuffy was not able to get into contact with his family in Dominica until days after the hurricane.

Hurricane Maria hitting Dominica so hard was a surprise to the small Caribbean island. The storm had gone from a category 1 to a category 5 in less than 24 hours, so the country had little time to prepare.

“There were really ideal conditions in the Caribbean and western Atlantic this year for hurricane formation,” said Jessica Veenstra, assistant professor of natural science at Flagler College.

One of Cuffy’s professor’s, Cindy Rippé, an assistant professor of marketing at Flagler College, first took notice in Cuffy’s distress after he performed poorly on a class presentation.

As soon as Rippé was aware of the situation, she knew she wanted to help.

“We get so caught up in ourselves, balancing our own things–we’re blessed,” says Rippé. “But Dominica, that is a country that’s in need.”

The project first started as a canned food drive, but then popularity for the cause grew across campus. That is when Rippé and Cuffy collaborated on the idea of the sculpture competition, and Rippé turned the project into a class assignment.

“I feel like I’m here to make a difference, not just for students,” Rippé said.

The goal for the project was to collect 1,000 cans to be donated and delivered to Dominica. Even now, two months after the hurricane hit, the country is still forced to ration out food to its people because they are still in need.

When competition day came on Nov. 3, the project ended up raising just over 2,000 cans, as well as other items including medicine, baby food, clothing, and even a wheelchair.

It was all hands on deck to pull off this college-wide project, and Flagler President Joe Joyner made sure to play his role, by taking part in the competition as well as personally supporting Cuffy.

“Dr. Joyner was very supportive, I adore and respect him,” Cuffy said.

Joyner even presented the trophies to the top three winning teams: Delta Alpha in third place, Phi Alpha Omega in second place, and Enactus in first place.

In Cuffy’s eyes, the project’s was a monumental success.

“Seeing the class coming together, and the people coming together, it was beautiful.” Cuffy said. “It was the most touching thing I’ve done in my 24 years.”

Dominica is still in the recovery process. Unfortunately, countries like Dominica do not have the same support and resources as larger countries, such as the United States, to be able to deal with such devastation.

“[Dominica] is still suffering,” Cuffy said. “The fact that people are still without food or ways to communicate … that’s why we still had [the competition] now instead of a month ago.”

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