Angel M. Díaz
Until late last year, Angel M. Díaz, 41, was a licensed social worker and certified life coach in Puerto Rico. He worked with troubled youth, teaching them valuable life skills such as how to manage conflict.
When Hurricane Maria struck the island on Sept. 20, 2017, Díaz was at a home for orphaned youth in the northern town of Hatillo. There, he and a co-worker endured the storm’s wrath with six boys, ages 12 to 17, in their care. As fierce winds and debris battered the home outside, a few of the walls within cracked under pressure, and water flooded the first floor.
The children were evacuated within days of the hurricane, while Díaz and other employees stayed to clean up and repair the home. They, like others on the island, were challenged by the lack of power and water, scarcity of food supplies, oppressive heat, mosquitoes and treacherous road conditions. On an especially bad day, Díaz stood in line for 12 hours to buy gas, only to learn the pumps were empty.
Amid the devastation and uncertainty, he decided to leave Puerto Rico and head for Cleveland, where his father has lived for 19 years. He arrived on Dec. 6, eager to begin a new life.
“My dad had encouraged me to come to Cleveland for some time,” Díaz said. “The economic and political situation in Puerto Rico was difficult before the hurricane, and it was only going to get worse.”
To ease his transition, Díaz took English lessons at Esperanza Inc., a local education organization for Hispanics. He also sought professional development services at El Barrio Workforce Development Center, where a new acquaintance alerted him to a job opportunity.
Today, Díaz is a case manager for the Murtis Taylor Human Services System of Cuyahoga County. He counsels children in the Cleveland Municipal School District who struggle with attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity and depression, among other issues. He works primarily with Hispanic students at Luis Muñoz Marin School and Thomas Jefferson School in Cleveland. Most of the students he sees are from Puerto Rico.
Over the summer, Díaz moved out of his father’s home and into an apartment in North Olmsted. He is taking English classes at Tri-C® this fall to improve his fluency. Eventually, he would like to buy a house.
“It’s been a year of growth, of opportunities, of maturing and of embracing a new vision of life,” he said.
Even so, leaving Puerto Rico was not easy. Díaz’s mother and sister remain there, along with many friends and neighbors. The winter in Cleveland was a big adjustment, and the culture here, he says, is less open than in Puerto Rico.
Nonetheless, Díaz is determined to thrive in his new surroundings.
“Climate and weather changes are hard, but my goals and objectives are clear. No hurricane or cold weather will hold me back.”