By Naeisha Rose
A Springfield Gardens man has been honored for his volunteer work with Project Warmth Night, a United Way project to provide heating funds to needy families during the cold winter months.
Juan Santiago was recognized by United Way, because of 20 years of donations and volunteer service. The nonprofit cited his volunteer work with National Grid and his recent efforts to help restore power in Puerto Rico after a hurricane.
United Way of Long Island partnered with the Long Island Nets basketball team during a home game on Feb. 23 to host the Project Warmth Night program at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where they honored Santiago as a Veteran of the Game and for his service in the Navy, as well as National Grid as a Community Champion for their support of the initiative.
“I felt that there are a lot of people who deserved [the title] more than me,” said Santiago “but I was definitely appreciative, surprised and embarrassed.”
Santiago served during the Gulf War, was stationed in the Mediterranean and has earned a National Defense Service medal, a Navy unit commendation, a NATO Medal, two Armed Forces Service medals, two Sea Service Deployment Ribbons and a Meritorious Union Commendation.
Santiago has worked for National Grid for 25 years and has collaborated with Project Warmth in Long Island for over one year.
Project Warmth provides emergency heating funds during the winter months to energy insecure individuals and families who are unable to pay their heating bill in Long Island. They have serviced people in more than 1,600 homes with heating assistance.
United Way is a nonprofit that helps to uplift communities in the United States and 41 countries and territories across the world.
“For many years, National Grid has been a proud supporter of United Way’s Project Warmth,” said Bob DeMarinis, National Grid’s vice president of Gas Operations and Construction. “It was a tremendous honor to be part of this year’s Project Warmth Night, receiving the Community Champion Award and seeing our employee Juan Santiago featured as the Veteran of the Game was a true testament to the power of this program and the lives that it touches.”
Santiago is a manager of the Community and Customer Management Department at National Grid, and uses his skills there and as the son of Puerto Rican parents to act as a bilingual liaison in Freeport, a predominantly Hispanic area in Long Island.
“It was a great feeling to be able to help,” he said. “Through the program we were able to provide heat and energy services, help them pay their bills and support them during the cold frigid months.”
Not only has Santiago helped to keep people warm in Long Island, but he has volunteered his services along with several other utility workers from National Grid to provide electricity in Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. The crews worked 16-hour days seven days a week.
From Jan. 8 to Feb. 5 he acted as a community liaison and translator in the towns of San Jose, Rio Piedras and Trujillo Alto and spoke with the townspeople about their concerns and gave them timelines about the restoration process as his colleagues surveyed the down power lines and later rebuilt wires to provide electricity for over 4,000 residents on the island.
“I gave them realistic timelines and I let them know that we weren’t leaving the area until everyone had power,” said Santiago.
After they also finished working on a local church and the Escuela Del Pueblo Trabajador (Town Worker School), the townspeople cheered, danced and honked their horns in celebration of the restored electricity, according to Santiago.
“It was amazing, [the reaction] warms your heart and this definitely made me feel good inside,” said the veteran.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose