A year after Hurricane Maria, evacuees have a loyal ally who understands
When Altamonte Springs resident Ana Ortiz heard about the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Maria last year, she felt a personal connection to those affected by the storm, and she wanted to help. She watched countless news reports about families forced to flee Puerto Rico, many coming to Florida to rebuild their lives.
A bilingual Lyman High School graduate, Ana was a senior at Rollins College at the time. She recalls one particular report that mentioned the Orlando nonprofit organization Latino Leadership. Ana immediately contacted the group to volunteer.
“I was trying to figure out what I could do,” she says.
Ana’s reasons for reaching out were personal. A DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) immigrant who came to the United States from Colombia when she was six, Ana has a deep level of empathy for the Maria evacuees. She knows what it’s like to be an outsider from another land, trying to start a new life.
Ana’s volunteer duties took her to Orlando International Airport, where she met evacuees as they arrived off planes. Latino Leadership’s welcome center offered services such as on-the-spot driver’s license transfers for those arriving in The Sunshine State.
Ana later volunteered as a case worker with the organization.
“I was directing evacuees to agencies and resources for things like affordable housing,” she says.
Today, Ana has become a major local advocate for a variety of immigration issues.
Ana was born in Buga, Colombia, an area she says was known for its high crime rate. She came to Florida with her mother in search of a better life.
Ana’s mother married an American, and Ana is still part of the DACA program. A permanent resident but not a U.S. citizen yet, she cannot legally vote or serve on a jury, but Ana has a Social Security number and driver’s license. She is working her way through the lengthy process of gaining citizenship, and her journey inspires her to help others.
Earlier this year, Ana was a speaker in a breakout session during the 13th annual Summit on Transforming Learning at Rollins College. She gave a presentation titled Immigration in a Nutshell to help other students understand the complicated immigration process.
Regarding her leadership role in the immigration debate, Ana admits, “It was kind of something bestowed on me.”
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She is now a graduate student at the University of Central Florida pursuing a master’s degree in social work, which Ana intends to put to good use in service of those who seek the American Dream.