It’s the darkest part of night when the stars come out.
That was certainly the case in the aftermath of Category 4 Hurricane Maria’s landfall on Puerto Rico in September 2017.
That’s when Lemuel Sanchez-Rivera stepped up and took a leadership role in an organization-wide effort to help the 49 PenFed Credit Union employees and 180,000 members on the island recover as quickly as possible.
Sanchez-Rivera, the branch manager of PenFed’s Fort Buchanan branch, reached out to his fellow employees to ensure their safety and check on their needs. He arranged for special access to Fort Buchanan to deliver the essentials—water, food, and gas—needed to keep employees and their families alive.
“Driving to work that first day, I witnessed the devastation to our beautiful island,” he recalls. “No electricity. No water. Lack of communication.”
When he arrived at the branch, he immediately started coordinating with the credit union’s business continuity team. He participated in update calls throughout the day and during the next few weeks with colleagues who were all committed to supporting PenFed members and employees in Puerto Rico.
“Luckily, the branch suffered minor damages, and systems began working without interruption,” Sanchez-Rivera says. “Since we had prepared by having enough cash on hand, we were able to restock our ATMs to ensure our members were taken care of in the weeks to come.”
Sanchez-Rivera arranged to have the ATMs filled with the only currency widely accepted during Puerto Rico’s prolonged power outage: $20 bills.
In the days following Maria’s landfall, Sanchez-Rivera put himself in harm’s way before dawn each morning to make sure PenFed’s ATMs were restocked with cash and working for members. On mornings when gas was scarce, he borrowed a friend’s car or rode his bike to ensure he was able to get to work to serve as many people as he could.
Sanchez-Rivera works hard so his team members understand the power of coming together, “to step in not because it’s your role, but because you see that something needs to be done.