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Their downlines became lifelines

SALT LAKE CITY — When the eye of Hurricane Maria passed over the small town of Corozal, Puerto Rico, last September, ushering in a Category 5 storm with 175 mile per hour winds that swamped and devastated the entire island, the phones immediately started ringing in a Utah company in Sandy called 4Life.

The calls didn’t come from Puerto Rico, of course, where the power lines were down (and some of them still are).

They came from everywhere else.

From Asia and Europe and South and Central America. From the South Seas and Australia and the Balkans and Canada and the United States.

Thousands upon thousands of 4Lifers all wanting to know the same thing:

Are our people all right? How can we help?

• • •

4Life is a network marketing business, also known as direct sales, person-to-person and/or multilevel marketing. It sells its product — supplements that support the immune system and general wellness — through an internal network of distributors who grow the business by creating their own mini-networks, known in the trade as downlines.

In 2000, shortly after David and Bianca Lisonbee opened the company’s doors in Utah and were struggling to find a foothold in the competitive "MLM" world, a veterinarian named Herminio Nevarez and a security guard named Juan Rosado learned about 4Life and decided to give this network marketing thing a try.

Juan and Herminio lived in Corozal, Puerto Rico.

These men — and their wives, Yadira and Damaris — were born to sell. To them, every waking moment was another opportunity. Everyone they met was a potential customer. Conversations doubled as sales pitches. Their downlines soon begat downlines.

From that little town in Puerto Rico, 4Life’s imprint spread to all corners of the world, especially Latin American countries — to the point that by the fall of 2017, no less than 60 percent of 4Life’s worldwide business could be traced back to those Puerto Rican roots.

When the hurricane hit there, it shook 4Life’s people to their core.

The response and mobilization was as quick as it was personal.

The same network that the day before had been sending product, referrals and income along the chain now began sending lifesaving supplies back along the same chain.

Utilizing 4Life’s product distribution warehouses already in place throughout Puerto Rico, a fleet of leased private planes and helicopters, funded through the 4Life Foundation, dispersed over 70,000 pounds of food, along with generators, tents, hygiene kits, first aid kits, water filtration systems, diapers, clothing and other goods to people in need throughout the country.

The effort was coordinated through 4Life’s headquarters in Sandy and the Florida home of Juan and Damaris Rosado, who had moved to Miami in 2009.

In no time, all four garages at the Rosados' home were filled to overflowing with supplies ready to be airlifted across the water to Puerto Rico.

“It’s one thing to send help, it’s another thing to get help to people directly when it’s needed,” said Juan Rosado. “The same network we built to make people successful is the same network that was able to help so many people in need.”

So efficient was the operation that other relief efforts latched on to the 4Life operation, including one spearheaded by former New York Yankee catcher Jorge Posada and his wife, Laura, friends of the Rosado’s.

Even the Puerto Rican government jumped on board, in several instances turning over to 4Life’s planes and helicopters cargo that was otherwise sitting on docks, rotting away.

Help continued as fall turned to winter. On Jan. 6, a special 4Life shipment of toys and presents was sent to Corozal for Three Kings Day, the national holiday when the Puerto Rican version of Santa Claus distributes gifts to the children.

“There is still a lot of need; they still don’t have power in many places. Many of the generators we sent over are still being used. But the people are happy and grateful and getting back on their feet,” said longtime 4Life executive Steve Tew, who accompanied the Three Kings Day toy shipment along with company president Danny Lee and David and Bianca Lisonbee.

“It’s just been an honor to be able to do something to help,” said Bianca Lisonbee. “From the very beginning we saw the potential for networking as an infrastructure for service. At its worst, this business model can be used as a scam. But at its best I don’t know of a better way to bring a product to market and to really unite and connect the world. I like to think we’re doing things governments can’t do. We’re building bridges and helping people. In this case we’re helping rebuild people.”