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Suffolk native aids Puerto Rico

Large parts of Puerto Rico still don’t have power after Hurricane Maria devastated the country back in September.

But Suffolk native and Dominion Energy employee Joel Rivera is going to be a big part of fixing that.

Rivera will join 82 other Dominion Energy employees traveling there to help restore power. Rivera also has a personal connection, because some of his family and friends live in Puerto Rico.

“They’re so excited. My family is excited, and they don’t get to see me that often,” said Rivera, who graduated from Nansemond River High School. “They think it’s amazing that Dominion is coming and for them to send workers to the island. They’re ecstatic and grateful.”

While the reunions will be wonderful, Rivera’s main purpose for being there will be work. The crew’s first task is to fix 95 broken power poles in the Carolina are of Puerto Rico, where 73,000 power customers are still without electricity.

“I’m really excited and honored to be selected out of the many people that work at Dominion. It means a lot to me to help a country that is desperately in need,” Rivera said. “For me, personally, it hit homes more. I’m thankful for it and for Dominion.”

Rivera be an asset not only because of his skills at Dominion but also because he is bilingual. Rivera speaks fluent Spanish, and his main role will be logistics and communication for the crew.

“There are others from the company that do speak Spanish, but there will be times when I will be the only one with a group that can,” Rivera said. “Being able to communicate and having clear communication is a good feeling and opportunity.”

The trip will be a minimum of four weeks, but it does have the potential to be extended due to the work that needs to be done. Mental preparation is a big part of leaving, Rivera said. He will be leaving his wife and three children at home during the trip.

“Originally, they had their own reservations. My wife, she encouraged me to go do it and get this experience to go help. She’s been very supportive of what we do,” Rivera said. “To me, as a husband and a father, to have a spouse that understands that as a business and understands the personal connection is amazing.”

The group from Dominion will arrive in Puerto Rico on Jan. 18, and supplies and equipment packed onto a barge should be meeting them there.

“Once we were tapped to go help, we were excited and ready to go,” said Bonita Billingsley Harris, Dominion spokeswoman. “It’s a sacrifice, but it’s very rewarding. We have 82 folks going and many other energy companies are participating.”