When hurricanes repeatedly hit her home country of Puerto Rico in 2017, Northern Virginia Community College student Hedda Babilonia was determined to help those attempting to put their lives and their homes back together.
Hedda and her family moved to Virginia from Puerto Rico when she was just 12 years old. While many of her family members also live in the U.S., Hedda still has family – including her grandparents – who still live in Puerto Rico. Because of Hurricane Irma, Hedda’s grandparents were already without power before Hurricane Maria hit in mid-September.
“The day of Hurricane Maria, my parents and I spoke to my grandparents at like three in the morning and then we lost contact for about two weeks,” Hedda said. “During those two weeks, we knew they needed power and that would be the main priority. So we were thinking, ‘How do we get generators, flashlights, batteries, things like that?’”
Hedda’s father thought they should try to send supplies to Puerto Rico to help those who had been affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. However, they knew people on the island weren’t receiving snail mail. Between the family members and making connections in the northern Virginia region, they were able to come up with a plan to get supplies to Puerto Rico.
“We had the idea to start collecting materials. We wanted to have large quantities to send so we would have a big impact on helping the island. My dad talked to his boss where they have a huge warehouse where we stored the items we collected,” Hedda said. “My brother works with my dad so they got it started, and my brother and I started a Facebook page called Unidos Por Puerto Rico DMV. United for Puerto Rico, the translation, is a campaign the first lady of Puerto Rico started so you can donate money and do what you can for them. We’re a small chapter of that campaign.”
Through Facebook, Hedda and her brother connected with other regional Puerto Rican groups and organizations in an effort to pool their resources and share information on how they were helping in hurricane relief. Since they started this venture, the group has donated more than 300,000 pounds of goods – including tarps, toothbrushes, hair brushes, clothes, food, baby wipes, lip balm, mosquito repellent, batteries, generators, can openers, flashlights and other necessities.
“We’ve managed to get those distributed using my dad’s connections to different groups including the National Guard,” she said. We’ve been sending everything by airplane because it has been the fastest and easiest way, and the Humane Society provided the first plane.”
For their efforts in assisting those affected by natural disaster, Hedda’s father Rafael Babilonia received recognition with the Points of Light Award.
Hedda’s quick thinking in helping her family donate to residents of their home country is one example of how the NOVA student puts her business and leadership skills to work. Hedda is in her second year at NOVA and plans to transfer to George Mason University to continue studying business administration. She expects to graduate from NOVA in May 2018.
Hedda said she attended NOVA because she knows a number of people from her high school who attended before transferring to a four year-college. Those friends said NOVA was a great and affordable option. Her father has managed a number of businesses and growing up, she often spent time in his office. Because of those experiences, Hedda has a head for business and wants to run her own company one day.
“I’ve always wanted to lead. Ever since I moved here and growing up back home, my dad would always be the leader. He managed a company, and he would bring me to his office some days after school,” Hedda said. “I took an interest in leadership from being around it. I have other ideas about having my own Puerto Rican restaurant one day because my mom is a chef and I love cooking. So if I have my own restaurant, I can put that business administration degree to use and cook at the same time. That would be my absolute dream.”
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Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through the Extended Learning Institute. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.