Jun 9, 2020

Innovative Systems Building: Stories of Progress

6 Students HIRED at Local Solar Company!
6 Students HIRED at Local Solar Company!

New Systems and the Caribbean Assistance and Resilience Effort (CARE) Fund

In 2017, when category 5 Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the Virgin Islands, we knew that full recovery would be long and that the world would not wait for us to rebuild before the next storm. And so, as our friends and partners at GlobalGiving know, St. Croix Foundation began the work. We collected data, networked our nonprofits, built holistic programming, and launched initiatives spanning workforce development, energy independence, food security – and perhaps most impactful, capacity building for nonprofits.

Another hurricane season came and went, and we sighed in collective relief that 2018 had given us a little more time to rebuild – and then Covid-19 hit the world. For the Virgin Islands, an unincorporated territory whose story is often overlooked, the stakes could not be higher. It is a reminder to us all that resilience is about more than hurricane preparedness; it is about institutionalizing civic power into our societies so that the innovation, passion, and nimbleness of people are leveraged for the resiliency we all aspire to reach.

Together, GlobalGiving and St. Croix Foundation have built a partnership rooted in a collective aim of nurturing healthy, resilient communities. One week ago, the Virgin Islands and coastal communities throughout the world went on high alert as we entered into the 2020 hurricane season, which is projected to be more active than average. From hurricanes to economic recessions and now, a global pandemic, the call of philanthropy has never changed for us: get on the ground, nurture enduring relationships with nonprofits to understand needs, and devise targeted solutions. Through our CARE Fund, the Foundation will continue to serve, to innovate old systems, build new ones, and share our stories of progress.

6 Young People Hired, Community Center Solarized, Countless Residents Impacted
For an initiative designed to achieve multiple objectives, our Solar-Supported Community Center and Workforce Development Initiative represents a philanthropic story of opportunity, resilience, capacity building, and collaboration.

The Foundation believes that to engage disenfranchised youth, to provide the skills necessary for them to take advantage of opportunity, we recognized that we would have to make space for them. So, we did!

What began as a project to solarize community centers throughout the island of St. Croix became a multi-layered initiative in which we embedded workforce development, nonprofit capacity building, and energy independence.

Today, six young adults, the first cohort of certified solar installers in the Territory, have completed a 6-month National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) course! Prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, three students had been hired, and the remaining students are in line to being hired by a local installation company. We check in with our students and are working with them on smaller projects to keep the momentum of their career going - and where there was once resignation, there is now hope for a real future. That’s opportunity.

In our past reports, we’ve given you a lot of data. We have detailed the rigor of the instruction our students underwent and described the curriculum that included soft skills as well as technical skill-building. We told you that they completed over 400 hours of class time, and we showed you the smile of a young man whose life was changed. You learned of the impact our solar initiative would have on community centers, such as saving over 40% on utility costs annually. You heard that the Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls, our first center to receive this innovative grant of a full solar system, serves over 100 students a day and is located in one of our most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. They have agreed to reprogram utility savings into enhanced services. The ripple impact on children and families is almost unquantifiable. And in another demonstration of civic collaboration and capacity building, every center we solarize has agreed to serve as a resilience hub during grey skies, providing energy access, communications, and invaluable community services. This is what a story of resilience and capacity building looks like – on an individual, organizational, and community level!

Through the support of our strategic philanthropic partners, like GlobalGiving and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, St. Croix Foundation was able to conduct strategic grantmaking that is providing full solar systems and paying student stipends for On-the-Job training. Locally, the partnership of each community center builds capacity to serve hundreds, if not thousands of residents. In the public sector, the VI Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Board underwrote instructor salaries and student books, supplies, tools, and classroom stipends. And through the support of local corporate citizens, we were able to fill in the final funding gaps and provide actual job opportunities to students once the course was completed.

Having secured funds for the first three centers, we are working hard to find partners for our fourth center and a second cohort of NCCER students.

Mobilizing Civic Power through AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteers
Just as St. Croix Foundation was gearing up for additional recruitment to build our 15-member AmeriCorps VISTA team, Covid-19 forced our community to go into lockdown. However, the project has been nimble where possible, and we are now hosting 6 VISTAs. Despite challenges surrounding the pandemic, VISTAs continue to work to support the Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls of the VI, St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group, and Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition.

One of our VISTAs works with the St. Croix Long Term Recovery group on increasing funding for the Unmet Needs Committee, who provides disaster recovery assistance to St. Croix residents who have nowhere else to turn. Having joined the team in February, this VISTA is an engineer who shifted to education and nonprofits to learn more about her community while serving at the same time. In just her first month, she has already submitted her first grant for the St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group. One of the reasons the VISTA program is so beneficial (around the globe) is because each VISTA brings a new personality, a new perspective, and a new approach. VISTA is a mutually beneficial program because, as one volunteer says:

“It is inspiring to see the incredible hearts of all of the staff and their desire to make a positive impact in the community they serve. They are excellent examples of what a Servant Leader’s heart looks like.I’m enjoying being that compassionate bridge between a need in my community and available assistance that helps people get to a better place in life with dignity. I also love scuba diving. I have an Advanced Open Water certification, with the hopes of one day becoming a Master SCUBA Diver.”

To the Foundation, this is testimony that civic power is strong in our community and programs like VISTA mobilize voice, skill, and passion for people.

VISTAs are also provided training, and two attended the AmeriCorps VISTA In-Service Training on March 3-6, 2020, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They joined a community of over 200 VISTA volunteers from 25 states for a 3 ½ day, in-person training and skills-building opportunity designed for VISTA members in their first few months of service. The training offers learning on service-related topics, practical skill development, and networking opportunities. Sessions covered various topics such as Capacity Building: The Heart of VISTA, Empowering the Community, Recruiting and Placing Volunteers and Creating and Maintaining Successful Partnerships. As part of providing a holistic experience, the Foundation will also be offering VISTA training and experiences in grant research, website development, and cultural sensitivity.

While Covid-19 has delayed recruitment, the Foundation is working toward having all VISTAs in place by the end of September. Thanks to housing stipends provided by GlobalGiving, the Foundation will be able to offer a package that gives local and visiting VISTAs a valuable experience in place-based philanthropy. Our VISTA initiative is about building a system of strong nonprofits to support our community through any trial.

Healing through the Humanities: The Alexander Theater Take the Stage
Sunday Market Square is a very special space on St. Croix, once a designated convening space where enslaved Crucians were allowed to trade goods, connect with loved ones, and socialize in the marketplace on Sundays- their only day off from work. Through the years, Sunday Market Square remained a popular meeting place for residents of St. Croix through the 1900s. Today, St. Croix Foundation’s headquarters are located in the Square right next to the Alexander Theater. The Territory’s first indoor movie house, the Alexander Theater served as a center of economic activity in Christiansted town from the mid-1950s and operated until 1989 when it sustained catastrophic damage from Hurricane Hugo and then again in 1995 from Hurricane Marilyn.

The Theater was acquired by the Foundation in 1998 and has been a core component of the Foundation’s longstanding vision for the revitalization of the Square ever since. Today, the renovation and retrofit of the Alexander Theater represents a thriving social, cultural, and economic opportunity for St. Croix.

St. Croix Foundation leverages every project for multiple impacts. In May of 2019, the Foundation was approved for a Phase 1 FEMA Hazard Mitigation grant, which will enable us to renovate and retrofit the Alexander Theater. During blue skies, the Alexander Theater will serve as a performing arts center and convening space, helping to transform the Square into the epicenter of culture, arts, and economic development it once was. What’s more, it will function as the only disaster safe room and shelter in Christiansted for nearby residents and tourists visiting nearby hotels at the time of a disaster. The Theater and adjacent buildings will be built to FEMA disaster safe room standards and will be used during times of crisis for years to come. This facility will have the capacity to house 300 or more people safely and will serve as a disaster supply distribution site when our community needs us most.

Phase 1 of the project is currently underway, and the Foundation is working closely with our public sector partners to develop this one-of-a-kind facility that operates at the intersection of arts, culture, economic development, and disaster preparedness. We anticipate breaking ground on construction in 2021.After Phase 1, the project is eligible for up to $10.9 million in Phase 2 funding from FEMA to complete the disaster safe house.

The federal funding for this project is a reimbursable grant, which requires that the Foundation to spend operating funds to cover eligible project expenses before they are reimbursed by FEMA. A Revolving fund has been established to support the Alexander Theater project enabling us to draw down federal funds. Revolving funds will not only cover reimbursable expenses but will enable the Foundation to cover project expenses that are not eligible for reimbursement including Theater specific equipment. Once completed, the revolving funds will be reprogrammed to high impact initiatives for the people of our community and the nonprofits who serve them – initiatives just like this.

The Alexander Theater Restoration and Disaster Shelter Retrofit epitomizes the St. Croix Foundation’s approach to holistic community development. Together with our community and supporters, we are leveraging the power of philanthropy to strengthen and transform our community. How do you push old, inequitable systems out? At the Foundation, we believe the answer is to invest in new systems of innovation, resilience, and the power of community.

Farm Tiendas in Operation!
The story of our Farm Tiendas is near and dear to our heart because it is another innovative system made possible by collaboration and very creative grantmaking that links small business development with food security.

When St. Croix’s small-business farmers were devasted by the 2017 hurricanes, it wasn’t a quick recovery: crops were lost, and an entire growing season was delayed -- or abandoned as in the case of some of our farmers. But today, after a grant that provided seven farmers each with a durable steel container to serve as a farm stands, our farmers are stronger than ever before. Six are already serving the public, and solar and WiFi will soon be installed, providing each farmer with resources to serve their communities in blue skies and in grey. 

One St. Croix farmer, the owner of GLG Farm, is an example of what strategic grantmaking means to the Foundation. Before the hurricane, GLG Farm was participating in Wednesday and Sunday Farmers Markets at the La Reine and South Gate Markets, and he also had a shed on his property used a roadside stand to sell his produce and roasted corn. When the hurricanes hit, GLG Farm was ravaged, he lost all the crops in his field and lost the trailer that was used for storage of equipment and his roadside farm stand. But, thanks to Coca-Cola One, Cruzan Rum, and GlobalGiving, GLG is now back online. They are holding regular hours again and have expanded service to later hours thanks to the solar lights installed on the outside of the unit. Our farmers say it best though:

  • “Extremely grateful that there are people working to support farmers in our community!” ~ GLG Farm
  • ‘Thanks to St. Croix Foundation, my business has regained critical infrastructure that will allow us to stabilize and expand. We simply couldn’t have done it without you, and we pledge to be the resilient community hub our island needs and to pour passion into food security for all.”   ~ Sejah Farm

Due to delays surrounding Covid-19, Farm Tiendas will be solarized in June and data collection on how the Farm Tiendas function will become the priority of this initiative.

Just the beginning…
In just three months, St. Croix Foundation will celebrate its 30th Anniversary. What we have learned over the three decades of service is this: that holistic community development, driven by place-based philanthropy high impact civic partnerships and innovative systems can be built. Through our deepening competencies around disaster philanthropy and fully engaged strategic partners like GlobalGiving, we are building a field of practice that can serve as a model for remote, underserved communities everywhere!

Taking Center Stage: VISTAs are Writing Grants!
Taking Center Stage: VISTAs are Writing Grants!
The faces our solarized centers serve inspire us.
The faces our solarized centers serve inspire us.
VISTAs receive broad-based training opportunities.
VISTAs receive broad-based training opportunities.
Farm Tiendas are in service, making a difference.
Farm Tiendas are in service, making a difference.
Retrofit & Renovation: work begins in 2021!
Retrofit & Renovation: work begins in 2021!
Mar 16, 2020

Working to Sustain Resilience

To date, 200 residents are trained for resilience!
To date, 200 residents are trained for resilience!

The St. Croix Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) is a cooperative body that is made up of representatives from faith-based, non-profit, government, business and other organizations working within St. Croix to assist individuals and families as they recover from Hurricane Maria. The goal of the LTRG is to unite recovery resources with community needs in order to ensure that even the most vulnerable in the community recover from the disaster.

73 Homes and More to Serve...
In this reporting quarter, the St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group construction and rebuild program suffered some setbacks. At the end of 2019, FEMA decided to discontinue the use of “invitational travel” for our volunteer teams, requiring teams to now pay for their transportation to the island. The impact is that the number of teams we were expecting to host, and the frequency in which the teams are coming, has slowed. To date, however, we have hosted 58 volunteer teams who have contributed 51,821 volunteer labor hours and completed 73 homes!

The impact of the decrease in volunteer labor requires that we re-evaluate the number of homes we have in our queue. We have reduced that number to 23 homes and suspended intake and evaluation on 45 homes. Our Disaster Case Managers (DCM) will continue to seek alternative solutions for those 45 families.

Disaster Case Management
As has been reported, the loss of federal funding to hire critical DCMs required the LTRG to piece together funds through grants from various philanthropic sources. Thanks to our partners from the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) and the United Methodist Committee on Relief we have been granted salaries for two DCMs. And because of the generosity of our GlobalGiving family, a territory-wide grant as well as an additional grant, we were able to hire three more DCMs.

During this quarter, our case managers have served and continue to serve a total of 204 cases. Of those, 134 are still active, and 70 cases have been closed.

The EnVIsion program, a HUD-funded rebuild program operated by the VI government, has begun to take clients. This has allowed our DCMs to assist clients with a new resource. It has also reduced the number of new clients.

Unmet Needs Committee
The Unmet Needs Committee fills a critical role in disaster recovery. When a DCM has exhausted all resources available to a beneficiary, and needs are still not met, then the Unmet Needs Committee steps in to fill the gap. The Unmet Needs Roundtable convened for the first time in this reporting period. During this meeting, four cases referred to the committee by our Disaster Case Managers were funded-- a total of $90,495.00. These cases are all St. Croix residents who, for one reason or another, will not qualify for any of the federally funded rebuild programs. The following is an overview, submitted by a DCM, of one of the cases that was funded:

Client is a single elderly individual that lives alone and survives on a fixed income that limits their ability to make the needed repairs to their home on their own. Client is in a situation where they do not have the support of family to assist in their recovery process and therefore needs assistance. Client has been living in substandard conditions for the past 2 years and continues to do so without much of the basic living amenities. The impact of the storm resulted in client losing the roof of their home along with damages to their floors, windows, doors, electrical, and to the kitchen and bathrooms. Client also lost most of their personal items and appliances. Over the past two years, client was living in the home with a tarp roof that went beyond its useful life that contributed to further damages to various systems and fixtures throughout the interior of the home. In August 2019 client received a newly constructed roof through the Lutheran Disaster Response volunteer rebuild program. However, despite getting the new roof, there are some additional repair items that are required to get the home to a place where it is safe, sanitary and secured. At this time, we are seeking financial assistance from the Unmet Needs Roundtable to fund the completion of the repairs to their home, so they move forward with some level of normalcy in their everyday lives.

Many thanks to GlobalGiving for understanding and working with us to use these funds to provide assistance to the most vulnerable in our community. We will have exhausted available funds for this committee within the next month. The LTRG continues to work to identify additional funding for this critical piece of recovery.

Connecting, Engaging, and Equipping Residents with Resilience Preparedness
As previously reported, The LTRG began offering free workshops to organizations and congregations seeking to equip their members to be "Prepared to be Your Own First Responder." The goal of the workshops is to effect a cultural change from one of reaction to one of preparedness--not only for hurricanes but for any disaster that could come our way. We have now offered this workshop 7 times and worked with more than 200 community members. One attendee said, "You made me feel cared for and I can prepare even with a small budget. I hope you come back again to do more trainings." Another attendee offered this feedback, "More people need this information and presentation. You spoke with passion, engaged the audience, cared about the people and used very practical examples." We will continue to offer these workshops in 2020 and plan to expand them to include information about VI VOAD.

Finally, we are pleased to announce that the VI VOAD has been reactivated! VOAD is an acronym for Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. The Virgin Islands VOAD has been recruiting member organizations on all three islands and holding monthly meetings.

Making A Difference…
The St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group is an organization committed to making a memorable difference in the lives of our community stakeholders, one life, one business, one mind at a time. While emergency relief and even intermediate recovery and survival absorb resources for the first one to two years, we believe that our community is now in a stage where it is truly able to build independence and resilience for the future. As such, the time is now to engage our communities like never before and we thank you for standing shoulder to shoulder with us now and into the future!

Unmet needs get met with the St. Croix LTRG!
Unmet needs get met with the St. Croix LTRG!
Mar 10, 2020

Embracing Communities Globally for Resilience!

The Climate Strong Islands Declaration is Signed!
The Climate Strong Islands Declaration is Signed!

Embracing Regional, National, and Global Communities for Long-Term Resilience!

Since launching our Nonprofit Consortium (a collective of over 30 local nonprofits) in September 2016, exactly one year prior to the 2017 hurricanes, St. Croix Foundation has sustained its founders’ pledge to support the Territory’s civic sector as an inextricable component of our core organizational programming. Over the past three years, all of us at the Foundation have been so inspired to witness the Consortium grow into a powerful coalition of civic organizations that is building dynamic collaborations and birthing a beautiful Vision for the future of our Islands in the aftermath of the hurricanes. It’s because of supporters like you that we have been able to continue this work, which is a natural expansion on our 30 years as a fiscal sponsor of 250 nonprofit organizations and grassroots efforts.

Also, because of the deepening of our support for nonprofits, we have great hope and optimism that the successful projects we’ve spearheaded have set a firm foundation for greater capacity, for service, and for advocacy around a collective vision for the Virgin Islands. Today’s report reflects work over the past quarter that will create ripple effects of progress within our nonprofits and the residents they serve for years to come.

As a vehicle for engaging national funders and exposing them to the unique realities of the U.S. Caribbean, this past February, St. Croix Foundation for Community Development was pleased to host its 4th Annual Philanthropy Retreat on the island of St. Croix.

The retreat entitled The Power of People and Place: Status Matters, convened and connected over 20 local nonprofits and 15 national and international Senior Philanthropy Executives and Board Members from Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Council on Foundations, the Southeastern Council of Foundations, the Association of Black Foundation Executives, LASCO Chin Foundation of Jamaica, Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina, and Grantmakers for Southern Progress.

Over the course of several days, St. Croix Foundation led our local nonprofit partners and foundation guests in a focused conversation around political status, social equity, community resilience, and nonprofit capacity building. The Consortium offered guests an unfiltered opportunity to learn about the inherent challenges and assets of the Virgin Islands and included an island tour with visits to the Juan F. Luis Hospital (St. Croix’s only Community Hospital). Limetree Bay Terminals and Refinery, the Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls (CCBG), Marley Housing Project, Frederiksted Health Care, and Sejah Farms of the Virgin Islands.

Each destination served to emphasize the cross-sector collaboration of Consortium members that enables funding and networking to leverage every asset for multiple benefits. Resiliency efforts such as energy independence for youth centers at the CCBG and economic development opportunities for farmers focused on food security were showcased for executives. The tour and attendant conversations incorporated data points about the realities of living in an unincorporated U.S. Colony that is often not recognized as a funding priority by most national philanthropic entities. Several of those special social and environmental conditions surrounding the hurricane include the reopening of a 50-year-old shuttered refinery, the condemning of our only community hospital, and the loss of 6 of 13 public schools, not to mention soaring housing costs and resident displacement due to the influx of recovery contractors and imported refinery workers. All of these challenges continue to underscore the necessity of strong nonprofits, civic leadership, and philanthropic investments.

After 3 days with the Nonprofit Consortium and the Foundation, our national partners committed themselves to serve as a voice for the Virgin Islands, to articulate the value of the Virgin Islands as a priority to national funders and as a potential test-bed for innovative models. While !the challenges of isolation are well known to the Territory – whether it be political, economic, geographic, or racial - by focusing on assets that already exist in our community, we are building a strong civic base that is both proactive and responsive. And with global partners, we are more than locally strong. We are resilient

Using Data to Shine a Light on St. Croix’s Assets & Focus Collective Resources
At the Retreat, the Consortium also presented findings from the first phase of its asset mapping initiative of St. Croix’s nonprofit sector, namely:

  1. Of nonprofits surveyed, 24% of respondents reported that they impact 20% of the population.
  2. Meanwhile, an overall majority, or 58% of nonprofits, had part-time or full-time staff of no more than 2 or fewer employees.
  3. However, despite these troubling statistics, not one organization described its overall organizational health as “in crisis.”

At this phase, the Consortium’s initial conclusions are that nonprofits are a critical component of the welfare of community, particularly in the absence of healthy governmental systems after a hurricane. As such, nonprofit capacity building and data collection must be a continued focus. With an expanding community of collaborators, the Nonprofit Consortium continues to take focused steps to raise awareness around the need to build a culture of data collection that is timely, relevant, and shared.

Background Note: In 2019, 22 organizations completed our Impact Survey for Nonprofits which was disseminated to 60 nonprofits. Representing all four sectors of our Consortium, our overarching objective has been to inventory the impact of the work being led by nonprofits, in addition to assessing their needs and inhibitors to effectively serve some of our most vulnerable residents. The survey zeroed in on the status and impact of nonprofits by seeking to understand the level of organizational stability at the executive level, funding sources, the number of community members served, and more.

St. Croix Foundation's President, Deanna James, presented at the Environmental Grantmakers Association's Winter Briefing in San Juan this past week. Speaking to the vulnerabilities of the Caribbean and more specifically the USVI as an unincorporated US Territory, Deanna provided an update on the status of the Territory’s recovery and St. Croix Foundation’s investment in our ‘social infrastructure’ (i.e. nonprofits) as a critical component of the USVI’s present and future resilience.

Our presentation at the EGA conference and on other national stages is keeping the Virgin Islands firmly on the recovery agenda of national philanthropy, while also advancing a bold conversation around equity, energy justice, climate resilience, and civic collaboration!

Just this past week, our President also attended the second Climate Strong Islands Dialogue in Puerto Rico. St. Croix Foundation joined nonprofits, foundations, universities, and private sector stakeholders to discuss access to clean, reliable, and cost-effective energy, food security, and the value of U.S. island communities working together to respond to accelerating climate change.

On Wednesday, February 26th, along with over 70 organizations across the nation (from Guam to the outer banks of Maine) the Foundation signed the Climate Strong Islands Declaration highlighting the particular needs and incredible potential of islands to collectively find solutions to the Climate Change Crisis.

The Declaration emerged from nearly two years of discussions about the struggles and chronic underinvestment that many U.S. islands have endured over the past fifty years.  Correcting this historic inequity is a matter of basic fairness, as the world’s islands have produced only 1 percent of the emissions that are heating the planet but are often already bearing the brunt of the consequences.

Our Community
We are grateful to former and current Board Members of the Foundation, who understood the critical nature of the Consortium early on. Because of them, the Foundation was able to convene nonprofit partners immediately after the storms in deeper, more strategic ways than ever before. And, together, we leveraged our collective resources to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and underserved residents at a time when both the local and federal government responses were insufficient. 

Three years later, through the Consortium, we are collectively gaining real insight around the strengths and challenges of operating nonprofits under challenging social, political and economic conditions. But most of all, the Consortium is fostering and cultivating the most inspirational, intentional, and dynamic culture of civic engagement and collaboration in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And today, we are fulling our pledge to expand from our shores, embracing regional, national, and global communities to harness the expertise, passion, and resources necessary for real resilience.

We are deeply appreciative to GlobalGiving for being one of the first funders after the hurricane to recognize and value the critical role of nonprofits. And, because of our growing national and international exposure, and our philanthropic approach, our Nonprofit Consortium is today becoming a national (and regional) model for community building and community resilience.

Presenting at the Environmental Grantmakers Assoc.
Presenting at the Environmental Grantmakers Assoc.
The 4th Annual Phil. Retreat was a Success!
The 4th Annual Phil. Retreat was a Success!
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