After Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017 and widely knocked out water service on the island, residents were left without safe water to drink — a problem that continued long after the storm ended.

So the Rotary Club of Centennial decided to lend a hand with its “WaterRico” project to provide in-home water filters to residents in need, focusing on the area of Moca in the island's northwest corner. Rotary clubs focus on community service abroad and in local areas.

Recently, the Centennial club worked on its fifth WaterRico phase to provide 120 filters. The move “in addition to targeting those below the poverty line will help supply clean water to those most affected by the COVID-19 virus,” the club said in a news release.

So far, the effort has provided nearly 1,500 filters, said Marc Garfinkel, a member of the club's board of directors.

To assemble the filter systems, club members use nano filter technology from a company called AguaClara, according to Garfinkel. The club also purchases buckets, which are among the parts that make up the filter systems for families.

“In 2019, we actually went to Puerto Rico and worked with, partnered with, two clubs in Puerto Rico and assembled and distributed and did the complete project,” Garfinkel said.

Now, club members take care of part of the drilling of the buckets and places stickers on them, and then send the parts to Puerto Rico for people to assemble them there, Garfinkel said.

Stickers include handwashing instructions — part of Rotary's goal is to promote good hygiene, Garfinkel said — translated into Spanish. The stickers also explain how to maintain the buckets properly and list whom to call if families need spare parts.

Funding for the filters, buckets, and stickers comes from the club's foundation — Centennial Rotary Club is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Other Rotary organizations, including the Denver Southeast Rotary Club, contributed funding as well, Garfinkel said.

The club has carried out the project in phases. First, three Rotary members embarked on an exploratory trip in May 2018 to evaluate the need and resources for the project in Puerto Rico, according to the project's website. Next, in November 2018, the club accomplished the installation of 100 filters. 

Third, in 2019, Rotary International approved an “International Global Grant,” and the Centennial club increased the scope of the project to 1,200 in-home water filters and a larger water filter for a school in Moca. At the time, the impact of the filters meant that more than 3,600 Moca residents had safe water to drink, according to the project website.

Phase 4 involved building 120 additional filters, and the fifth phase also entailed 120 filters. See more information on the project's website here. Garfinkel and club member John Peterson are co-chairs for the project.

Garfinkel, 59, a chiropractor in Centennial, is one of the founding members of the Rotary Club of Centennial and a past president of the group. Former Centennial Mayor Randy Pye is also a founding member.

The club's local focus includes projects such as buying clothes for kids during Christmastime and purchasing backpacks and school supplies in a collaboration with Integrated Family Community Services, a nonprofit that serves a swath of the south Denver metro area.

Prime Timers, a group that meets several times each month for luncheons, board games, pickleball, and more activities in the Centennial area, is also part of the Rotary Club of Centennial. Prime Timers started in September 2016.

Article by Ellis Arnold