Hailing from Hatillo, Puerto Rico, Joan Smalls knows first hand that the people of her native island will rise above the devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria. “It's sad, because you're so accustomed to seeing a Puerto Rico that I’m always used to seeing. I grew up there and everything is always so green and blush and just rich," she told HOLA! USA on Thursday, October 19, at the Daniel E. Straus and CareOne Starry Night Masquerade in NYC. "You go there [now] and it feels like there's been a winter.”
VIEW GALLERY Joan attended the Starry Night Masquerade Ball presented by CareOne Photo: Getty Images
“No trees have any leaves. You see people are in dire need of water and gasoline. So it's kind of heartbreaking, and you feel for the people because it's not like they can flee and go somewhere else," the model continued. “I mean they can, but the Puerto Rican spirit is so strong. They are going to ride it out. This is their island so they are going to rise above all of the difficulty.”
The 29-year-old traveled back to the island for two days in September to make sure that her family members were safe. Joan noted that although many are left without electricity and running water they are still remaining strong. “I feel like the spirit is still there, it will always be there,” she said. “It would take a lot to take that away from Puerto Rico.
VIEW GALLERY Joan said that the Puerto Rican spirit is strong Photo: Instagram/@joansmalls
Joan added that now, "It's just a matter of making sure that everyone is okay with electricity and running water. I think that is the priority right now and once that is up and running, everything is going to run smoothly. "You're going to see the vibrant Puerto Ricans and partying and giving that awesome energy that everyone is aware of. It will take some time but it takes patience.”
Since the flood, Joan has partnered with Unidos por Puerto Rico and a number of other local organizations that are providing immediate relief. Last week, she worked with fellow Boricua, Jennifer Lopez during her star-studded One Voice: Somos Live! concert. “It was incredible,” Joan said of the event that raised over $35 million. “I was getting a lot of calls from people who are Hispanic from Honduras to Mexico to Cuba so it was beautiful to see people just caring for the island.”
VIEW GALLERY The supermodel has partnered with various organizations providing relief Photo: Getty Images
The Estee Lauder spokesperson shared: “Sometimes you forget that it's this little piece of land in the Caribbean and people are so connected and attached to it. It was beautiful to see everyone join in and be a part of that and wanting to help. I think that was just a special part of the evening for me."
Joan admitted that seeing celebrities come together to raise awareness for her island has been touching. "It's incredible and it's heartwarming," she said. "We're all connected in some way, and I feel like at the end of the day it doesn't matter where you're from. We are all helping each other even when it came to the natural disaster[s] in Texas and Mexico. Everyone just joined to to help their fellow human being and that's the message."