GWU Students Connect with Puerto Rican Couple Affected by Hurricane

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Social Sciences Class Learns Firsthand the Meaning of Community

César and Maria Acosta
César and Maria Acosta, grandparents of GWU Alumna Marcesa Harper, have been without power since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September. They need a generator and solar panels. They have health concerns and live on a fixed income. Dr. Dianne Sykes’ class is raising money for the couple.

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Students in a Gardner-Webb University social sciences course on “The Community” are taking their studies beyond the classroom. Taught by GWU Associate Professor Dr. Dianne Sykes, the class is raising money for a Puerto Rican couple who were affected by Hurricane Maria in September.

“They are the grandparents of Marcesa Harper, a 2011 GWU alumna,” Sykes noted. “César and Maria Acosta need a generator and a solar panel or two. They have health concerns and live on a fixed income. We hope that what we can gather will be a blessing to this couple.”

Harper, who lives in Hendersonville, N.C., wishes she could go and help her grandparents. “They are having to adjust to a new normal, which is vastly different than pre-hurricane Maria,” she described. “Washing clothes with a washboard, boiling their water for cooking and drinking, and embracing the pitch dark as soon as the sun goes down are just a few things they are having to deal with. They have been blessed to have help from neighbors and a few family members close by.”

Hurricane Maria blew the solar panels off César and Maria Acosta's house in Puerto Rico
Hurricane Maria blew the solar panels off César and Maria Acosta’s house in Puerto Rico.

The idea to help a family in Puerto Rico came as the class studied the assigned texts: “Community: The Structure of Belonging,” by Peter Block, and “In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time,” by Peter Lovenheim. “We began by developing an understanding of what community means,” Sykes explained, “and how we can become a part of a restorative community—one in which members care for and are accountable to each other, and exercise their gifts for the benefit of the whole. Citizenship is holding oneself accountable for the betterment of our community, small and large. The idea was to reach out in a more personal way—family to family.”

PJ Fuimaono, a GWU senior sociology major, said the class imagined being in the same situation as the Acostas and wanted to do something to help. More than half of the $1,000 goal has been raised through a GoFundMe page, and the class is also asking local businesses to donate items for a raffle.

Harper is thankful for the GWU students’ willingness to help strangers. “It’s humbling. They don’t know me or my grandparents but they feel led to make a difference in their lives,” she shared. “I run a home repair program in my community and help people recover from disasters and damage to their homes daily, but I have felt helpless thinking about my grandparents and my inability to help them. I am so thankful for my Gardner-Webb family, and I am proud of the community that supports its students and alumni.”

Donations will be accepted until Dec. 1 on the GoFundMe page at

Located in the North Carolina foothills, Gardner-Webb University is a private, Christian, liberal arts university that prepares students to become critical thinkers, effective leaders and compassionate servants in the global community. Emphasizing a strong student-centered experience and rigorous academics, Gardner-Webb ignites learning and service opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. Ignite your future at