Aug 16, 2019

Sustainable Impact through Holistic Recovery Initiatives

Our first solar NCCER cohort is in training!
Our first solar NCCER cohort is in training!

As we write this report, we are mindful that next month will mark two years since Hurricanes Maria and Irma stormed the Virgin Islands in 2017. Today, as our community continues to recover, St. Croix Foundation is focused on work that supports long-term sustainability and resilience. As in so many other communities, on St. Croix sustainability and resiliency are not just words but imperatives. At the Foundation, we are acutely aware that as an isolated island community, St. Croix must look beyond theory and put into practice community-based initiatives that will drive our priorities of energy independence, economic resiliency, nonprofit stability, workforce development, and overall community self-sufficiency.

Today we are so pleased to announce that the projects we’ve been developing and updating you on, in conjunction with partners in the public, private, and civic sectors, are actively at work! And, because it wouldn’t be possible without you, we wish to extend our deepest appreciation to GlobalGiving and our family of supporters for making our vision a reality.

The Synergy of Workforce Development, Energy Independence, and Community
In June, St. Croix Foundation announced the official launch of our Solar-Supported Community Center Project and Workforce Development Initiative. A perfect representation of how the Foundation is advancing its recovery agenda and its commitment to holistic community development, this initiative was conceptualized to serve as a replicable model through which local youth are trained in order to build a skilled local workforce of solar installers; in turn, they will receive hands-on internship opportunities by solarizing several carefully selected community centers on St. Croix. Funded in partnership with the Virgin Islands Department of Labor, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Global Giving and a number of other national philanthropic entities, the community centers that will be solarized include The Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls VI, Flambouyant Gardens- senior citizens community, Mon Bijou New Youth Community Center, and USVI Soccer Association Center.

We are now fully in the first phase of the initiative, with 10 students aged 18-28 who are currently enrolled in the 5-month National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) course. Our students are receiving intense classroom instruction in NCCER Core Curriculum, Electrical Levels 1-4, and Solar PV Installation. They also receive a stipend during the program in addition to uniforms and toolkits which they will be allowed to keep upon completion of the program.

Once students have completed the classroom component of the program and have successfully passed each level of coursework, they will receive on-the-job training installing Solar Photovoltaic Systems on our four identified local community centers.

While building a skilled workforce around sustainable energy is undeniably critical to St. Croix’s social and economic health, we are equally excited about how this initiative will impact nonprofit community centers and the neighborhoods they serve. Community centers were selected based on their strategic location to isolated or underserved neighborhoods and their connection to established nonprofit organizations serving vulnerable populations and providing structured community-based programming. Centers will ultimately serve as neighborhood hubs for individuals and families in walking proximity that will support them with critical needs in the aftermath of future natural (or manmade) disasters. Independent of the grid, these centers will enable residents to store medication that requires refrigeration, charge electronic devices, and use internet connection to communicate with family. Community centers can also serve as localized distribution sites from which aid and relief items can be stored and disseminated in the future. Equally important, this initiative seeks to nurture a culture of resilience by empowering each nonprofit community center to achieve a reduction in utility costs, the savings from which can be reinvested in direct services that benefit the communities and vulnerable populations they serve.

Our first center, the Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls has already pledged to begin November 4, 2019. And, thanks to our incredible network at GlobalGiving, the Foundation has secured funding to solarize our second community center, the Mon Bijou New Youth Community Center. The Foundation hopes to secure funding for two additional community centers, one of which serves the elderly and another that is located in a remote neighborhood with very little access to services in times of trouble. Each community center will be collecting data on usage, savings, and programming impact and the Foundation believes that this approach to sustainability and resiliency will become a model for recovering communities.

Hear from our students and Deanna James, President of St. Croix Foundation, on how this initiative is and will impact community:

AmeriCorps VISTA comes to the Virgin Islands to Support  8 St. Croix Nonprofits
After a comprehensive and rigorous application process representing over 400 staff hours, St. Croix Foundation is happy to report that we’ve been awarded a $340,157 grant by the Corporation of National and Community Service to assign fifteen (15) AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers to support eight St. Croix nonprofits beginning in September 2019. We are very excited to welcome the first AmeriCorps VISTA Team in the territory in over 20 years.

In the aftermath of the 2017 Superstorms Irma and Maria, St. Croix Foundation conducted a survey on the status of nonprofits, who serve some of our most vulnerable residents, finding that 70% of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for their services while 64% were operating on a limited basis or not at all due to loss of funding, facility damages, and staff relocation. In response, St. Croix Foundation identified the AmeriCorps VISTA project as a strategy to build organizational capacity for nonprofits and began the comprehensive, year-long application process. With the application approved, a VISTA Volunteer Team will support the following organizations: Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls VI, St. Croix Landmarks Society, Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition, St. Croix Montessori, Clean Sweep Frederiksted, St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group, Virgin Islands State Historic Preservation Office and St. Croix Foundation.  In total, St. Croix Foundation’s VISTA Project expects to directly benefit youth, historic preservation, food security, green spaces, and relief and recovery services.

St. Croix Foundation specifically identified participating organizations who represent each of our subsectors within our civil society, including youth & education, health & human services, the built & natural environment, and arts & culture.  All sectors are also directly aligned with the priorities of the Foundation to ensure a holistic approach to capacity building among our nonprofits. As an added benefit, this initiative is also providing further opportunities for local residents by encouraging residents to apply to be part of the VISTA team, thereby learning about the critical role of our nonprofits.

Fiscal Sponsorship Opens Grant Opportunities For Recovery Groups
In every report, we like to update our partners on the work of the St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG), who continues to steadily serve residents with unmet needs resulting from the 2017 Hurricanes. As the LTRG’s fiscal sponsor, the Foundation has been providing the LTRG with initial start-up support, waiving financial management fees and providing office space to the group so they can keep working while they build capacity.

In total, the LTRG has raised over $1,000,000 including a generous grant from GlobalGiving which will cover the cost of 6 new Disaster Case Managers (DCM) for the Territory. The DCM staff will work with the three Long Term Recovery Groups (STT, STX, STJ) to help address the needs of residents who were severely impacted by the 2017 storms but have no resources or recourse for recovery. As part of its response, the Federal Government was projected to award an $11 million grant to the Territory for Disaster Case Management almost two years ago; unfortunately, funds were failed to be released. As a result, our local nonprofits have been piecing funds together to hire staff to fill the gap. Beyond the DCM initiative, the STX-LTRG has, to date, completed major roof and hazard mitigation restoration on 52 hours.

Watch what our LTRG does every time a home is finished!

Our Appreciation...
Sometimes there are no words to adequately describe the appreciation we have for empowering St. Croix Foundation to serve, to lead, and to make these projects possible - projects whose ripple effects literally change lives. So instead, we'll just say thank you for being a part of philanthropy in the U.S. Virgin Islands!

Meet the children our first solar center serves!
Meet the children our first solar center serves!
Jun 18, 2019

Building a Better Future for Disaster Victims

A joyful homeowner hammers the last recovery nail
A joyful homeowner hammers the last recovery nail

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.

Construct and Rebuild: Homes, Safety, Joy, Relief
In this reporting quarter, we used $70,260.65 USD of GlobalGiving funds to purchase building materials for homes.  We were also pleased to celebrate the one-year anniversary of St. Croix receiving volunteer construction/rebuild teams. This milestone represents 478 volunteers, 30,176 volunteer labor hours, 37 total groups, and 50 homes completed! We have 78 homes in the queue, so the work is only just beginning. Special thanks are given to our member partner Lutheran Disaster Response for leading this project.

One important aspect of this program is the “Final Nail Service.” Upon completion of a home, the volunteers, staff, neighbors, and homeowners gather for a ceremony where the homeowner symbolically drives the “final nail” into their completed home. These ceremonies are full of emotion: joy, relief, gratitude, and praise. They symbolize the first major step in a beneficiary returning to a “normal” life. We are grateful to our volunteer teams from the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission for introducing this practice to the LTRG. (Our homeowners love it too!)

Disaster Case Management - No Closed Cases Until Recovery is Complete!
Disaster Case Management (DCM) is the key for LTRGs to provide this much-needed assistance to individuals and households across the island. Each manager works with up to 80 cases at a time to ensure that every beneficiary is not inadvertently receiving duplicate benefits from FEMA, has connections to available resources on the island, and refers to the LTRG’s Unmet Needs Committee when resources are not available. Unlike other programs, Disaster Case Managers do not close a case until the client is completely recovered and has a sustainable action plan for thriving post-recovery.

With the loss of Federal funding to cover the expense of this program, the LTRG has pieced together funds through grants from various philanthropic sources—including GlobalGiving. We are pleased to announce that the $50,000 USD monies have allowed us to hire an additional DCM, Ms. Ahria O’Bryan. She has now been on-boarded and is up to 30 cases.

We are grateful to our National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) partner, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, for providing DCM training to ALL active DCMs in the territory. And we are also grateful to GlobalGiving for an additional grant to support this program. Recently, the new grant was recognized at the Clinton Global Initiative by Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton for GlobalGiving’s commitment to this work.

Unmet Needs Committee: Filling Critical Needs
As mentioned above, 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.

In this reporting quarter, the Unmet Needs Committee has completed the online portal for case intake. This portal, unique to St. Croix, allows DCMs to anonymously upload cases for review—preserving the dignity of the beneficiary and allowing the funders to make unbiased decisions. The $50,000 USD monies from GlobalGiving will begin to be expensed in the following quarter to address some of the needs of the 9 cases that have now been referred.

Building a Better Future
Some survivors affected by the hurricanes do not meet the eligibility criteria for government disaster aid programs or will continue to have unmet needs even after receiving the maximum amount of help from the disaster recovery programs. This is where recovery groups come into play. LTRGs are locally-based teams that are committed to seeing the islands through to full recovery.  The groups are helping Virgin Islanders remove debris, feed their families, and make repairs to their homes.

LTRGs will continue to bring people together to support grassroots recovery efforts and find solutions for some of the major challenges Virgin Islanders face after the disasters. Together with GlobalGiving, we will achieve this!

Volunteers construct a roof - and give hope & joy
Volunteers construct a roof - and give hope & joy
GlobalGiving & LTRG recognized by Clintons!
GlobalGiving & LTRG recognized by Clintons!
Final Nail Service: Giving thanks for repair
Final Nail Service: Giving thanks for repair
Jun 10, 2019

Closing Out, But Just the Beginning!

Friends are visited by an iguana.
Friends are visited by an iguana.

Project Close Out Report

There is a Norfolk Island Pine tree that stands just beyond our front porch, with half of the branches stretching 3 feet long, and the other half, lighter green and tender, measuring about 7 inches. It is impossible to miss. Whether I am standing looking out on the porch, readying my son for school, walking the dog back into our home, or looking up from my laptop - there is the pine.

Following the nearly two years since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, you often hear families reflecting on the power of nature – the raw ways it can uproot and disrupt every aspect of our community – as well as the resiliency, beauty, and hope the regrowth inspires in us.

This tree in my yard has been a consistent visualization of what it is like for a community, and our school, to experience the disaster of two Category 5 hurricanes, and then to persevere through rebuilding, to set our efforts on long-term recovery, and also maintain a degree of “normalcy” for our children.

The Joy of A Learning Community

As the director of St. Croix Montessori, I have had the intense joy of seeing children discover that they are capable and appreciated.

While preparing for end-of-year presentations, a group of students ages 6 to 12 practiced presenting research projects to peers. A parent observing kept on marveling that each student had created a project on their own, based on their interest. While the format varied – from games to poster boards to giving a mini-lesson or writing a book – the collaboration was consistent. As one student practiced Jawperdy – a quiz on sharks, complete with points from 200 to 1000 - his peers advised him: “Remember to speak up when someone gets the correct answer. We get excited by that.”

A younger student was advised by an older student during practice, “It’s okay – just read your notes to us so you can help yourself memorize what you want to say. We know you can do it.”

Yet another student, who took weeks to speak to the teachers following his family’s relocation back to the island, transformed when asked to help the class raise an orphaned chick. “Here,” he told us. “At night, you wrap the chick in a towel, like a chickburrito, and it just quiets and sleeps.”  He called a veterinarian to confirm the chick’s health and create a care plan, and developed guidelines for classmates to safely care for our adoptee. 

Two alumni, who began middle school this year, presented to families about what they learned from their 12 years in St. Croix Montessori, including how to prepare for the transition into middle school. “Don’t give up,” one stated. “You will make mistakes, and that’s okay. Because then you need to learn from them and figure out what works best for you. Then try it out and keep going.”

She added: “And parents, have patience.”

Restoring Balance

There are times where the fear, stress, and anxiety of parents takes on a feverish pitch, and they come to the school riddled with insecurity about parenting, their child’s friendships, and their child’s chances for future success. Even the best of our school’s team members have had those moments of doubt, whether it is about helping guide a child or family through a challenging time or trying to find the phrase or lesson that unlocks a child’s imagination and interest.

Aside from the trauma of the hurricanes, there are roughly 55% of families surveyed that acknowledged having personally experienced trauma in the past year (i.e. violence, loss of home, family separation). A recent study of the post-disaster impacts on children and families in the USVI reported that 60% of our children have depressive symptoms and there is a severe shortage of behavioral health professionals.

Which brings me back to our Norfolk Pine.

These pines are across the island. You will see many that look like the one outside my door. Many others are stripped bare, and only their dried trunks remain.

The pine has been a sort of measure – and reminder - of how lives progress after the hurricane.

Half of our lives are like those 3-foot branches: we have persisted. We continue to go on with the routines, rituals, and daily nuances of our families’ lives and life in a school.

The other half of our lives is like the newer portion of the Norfolk pine. It is flexible, growing, may never “catchup.” It gives us a new perspective on just how much we’ve accomplished, and what is needed and important in order to restore balance.

Overall, we are the entirety of this picture – aware that the world continues ahead, aware of our fragility, aware of our strength. The work to restore balance – in our schools, our homes, and our community – is the next phase.

So while we are closing out this project, because our most immediate and critical hurricane recovery efforts have been completed, we trust that the GlobalGiving community is engaged in our long-term efforts to restore balance to the St. Croix community by providing families sustained security for their children and ensuring equitable access to a quality education for St. Croix’s children exists for many generations and hurricane seasons to come.

Thank you for helping us restore the school!

To learn more about the long-term recovery and how we are building an equitable learning community across every area, policy, and practice of our school – from classroom to leadership – please follow our new project. We look forward to sharing the journey with you!

"I discovered cartography!" Student maps.
"I discovered cartography!" Student maps.
Day old orphan chick receives sugar water.
Day old orphan chick receives sugar water.
Nature reminds us that we are still recovering.
Nature reminds us that we are still recovering.
Alumni remind parents: ask questions, be patient!
Alumni remind parents: ask questions, be patient!


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