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Cass lights up Puerto Rico

Fifty solar generators made in Detroit are now providing much needed power in Puerto Rico.

Michigan Area Communications

When the Rev. Faith Fowler and her team set up the new solar generator at her United Methodist Church in Puerto Rico, Pastor Johanna Gonzalez Reyes shouted, “Hallelujah!” 

Two months after the devastating storm which decimated the island, much of Puerto Rico is still without power and another pastor, the Rev. Maria Ortiz-Salinas in Arroyo, was told it would be March before power would be restored to her church and community.

But the Green Industries of Cass Community Social Services isn’t waiting. Formerly homeless members of the Cass community are building solar generators which can be used to power cell phones, computers, fans, lights and even small refrigerators. Rev. Fowler, accompanied by Mark Heath and Spencer Hayes made the first delivery of 50 generators on November 8-12, 2017.

Fowler said when they arrived on the island, it was hard to believe the extent of the destruction in the once thriving and modern American city. They stayed on the third floor of a hotel without power—no lights, no fans, no air conditioning, no elevators.

Travel was difficult because most of the traffic lights are not working and gasoline is hard to come by. Every station had a lineup of 5-15 cars waiting for gas to run generators and cars. Communication is spotty at best and in many remote places it is non-existent. Given the sunny climate of the Caribbean island , Rev. Fowler said solar generators seemed like an excellent idea.

Cass began working on the 100 watt, 12 volt polycrystalline panels in the Green Industries warehouse using a work force comprised mainly of formerly homeless Detroiters and volunteers. Each generator costs about $500. Most of the parts were shipped to the office of the United Methodist Bishop in Puerto Rico through FedEx, which gave Cass a 65% reduction in the shipping costs. 

As in Detroit, Cass employed several homeless workers in San Juan to do the final assembly there. The Bishop and District Superintendents selected the areas and individuals who would receive the generators in their churches and homes, based on health, age and critical need. Rev. Fowler said, “Without fans or air conditioning, the intense heat is very hard on senior citizens. Imagine people who need insulin every day with no refrigeration in their homes.” 

Carlos Melendez’s father is a good example. Carlos lives in Ann Arbor and is trying to care for his 87-year-old father in Puerto Rico. Carlos said, “It’s been difficult even to communicate with him since phone service is so unreliable. We’ve tried to get him on a flight from Puerto Rico to Michigan, but making arrangements and transporting him to the airport is almost impossible.”

The Cass Community-Puerto Rico connection is a “win-win” in so many ways. First, it addresses an immediate need on the island. Second, as with all the Cass Green Industries, it employs formerly homeless persons in Detroit and third, it provides some of the same work in Puerto Rico.

Rev. Fowler says, “It’s a great example of the United Methodist global connection at work in meeting needs both here and in Puerto Rico. More generators will be built as funds are available.


~Rev. John E. Harnish is a retired United Methodist pastor living on Platte Lake in Benzie County.


Last Updated on December 22, 2022

The Michigan Conference