CROIX, U.S. Virgin Islands— As the Virgin Islands community marks the third anniversary of Hurricanes Irma and Maria this September 19, St. Croix Foundation for Community Development wishes to update the Community on the status of projects it has led since Maria devastated the Territory 3 years ago. While our islands continue to recover from the incredible destruction wrought by the 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria amid the unimaginable impacts of Covid-19, the Foundation hopes its program updates will inspire the Community to continue to seek and leverage the inherent assets and innovative work that is being done throughout our Territory.
According to Deanna James, St. Croix Foundation’s President, “over the last three years, the Foundation has served as a catalyst, convener, and coordinator in the recovery process, helping to promote impactful collaborations across the nonprofit, private, and public sectors. Since the hurricanes, we have remained steadfast in our commitment to supporting an innovative and progressive recovery, uplifting the nonprofit sector, and reminding our Community of its innate resilience which will help us weather any future crises.” Five projects in particular which are currently being spearheaded by St. Croix Foundation are facilitating a holistic recovery.
- Creation and Completion of Pilot Solar-Supported Community Center Project and Workforce Development Initiative
Funded in partnership with the VI Department of Labor, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, GlobalGiving, and several other national philanthropic entities, the Foundation designed and implemented a creative workforce development pilot program that will solarize vital community centers. Nine students ages 18-28 completed a 6-month National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) course, received intense classroom instruction in NCCER Core Curriculum, Electrical Levels 1-4, Solar PV Installation, and workplace soft-skills and readiness training. Students then received on-the-job training installing Solar Photovoltaic Systems by completing the installation of a solar system on the Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls of the VI facility in Frederiksted. The Foundation will next solarize Flamboyant Gardens and Mon Bijou Community Center. As an example of the Foundation’s approach to grantmaking, these centers will serve as community resiliency hubs and relief distribution sites during times of disaster. All nine students have been hired by local solar installation companies because of their participation in the program, providing a high impact community model at the intersection of resiliency, energy independence, and workforce development. To date, the Foundation has invested over $279,673 in this initiative.
- Bringing AmeriCorps VISTA to St. Croix’s Nonprofit Sector to Aid Capacity Building and Community Resiliency
In 2019, St. Croix Foundation was awarded a $340,157 grant by the Corporation of National and Community Service to assign 15 AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers to support eight St. Croix nonprofits with community engagement, fundraising, and other forms of capacity building. This is the first AmeriCorps VISTA team active in the Territory in over 20 years. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, St. Croix Foundation surveyed on the status of nonprofits and found that 70% 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 boost the sector’s ability to respond to the community’s needs. VISTA volunteers will support St. Croix Landmarks Society, Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition, St. Croix Montessori, Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls of the VI, St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group, Virgin Islands State Historic Preservation Office, and St. Croix Foundation. St. Croix Foundation’s VISTA Project will directly benefit youth development, historic preservation, food security, green spaces, and relief and recovery services. Currently, six VISTA volunteers have been onboarded at five of these nonprofit organizations and the Foundation has recently received notification that it has been awarded its second year of funding.
- Bridging Disaster Preparedness, the Arts, and Economic Development with the Alexander Theater Disaster Safe Room Retrofit
Located in Sunday Market Square, the Alexander Theater was one of the Territory’s first indoor movie houses. It 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. After temporary repairs, the 12,000 square foot historic landmark became uninhabitable after damages suffered during Hurricane Marilyn in 1995. It was acquired by the Foundation in 1998 and has been a core component of the Foundation’s longstanding vision for the revitalization of the Sunday Market Square ever since. In May of 2019, the Foundation was approved for a Phase 1 FEMA Hazard Mitigation grant, which will enable the Foundation 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, once again, transform the Square back into an epicenter of culture, arts, and economic development. The Theater will also function as the only disaster safe room and shelter in historic Christiansted town for 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 safely house 300 or more people and will serve as a disaster supply distribution site when our community needs the Foundation and our recovery partners the most. Phase 1 of the project, including architectural design and planning, is currently underway and groundbreaking on Phase 2 construction is projected for 2021.
- Helping Local Farmers Expand their Businesses through the Farm Tienda Initiative
When St. Croix’s 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 due to damages to and losses of fields, irrigation, equipment, and supplies. Believing that local farmers are key stakeholders in our community’s resiliency and well-being, St. Croix Foundation launched the Farm Tienda Initiative as a strategic grantmaking and small-business development program in partnership with Coca-Cola Company, Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition, and the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture.
Farm Tiendas are durable and moveable farm stands made from steel containers that will be outfitted with solar panels, Wi-Fi, and potable water to allow farmers to expand their businesses while also providing community resiliency hubs in the aftermath of future disasters. To date, this innovative project has provided Farm Tiendas to seven local farmers on St. Croix to stabilize and strengthen their agriculture-based businesses. In testimony to the value of this project to farmers during blue skies, GLG Farm recently expressed they were, “extremely grateful that there are people working to support farmers in our community!” And, Dale Brown of Sejah Farm, whose operation was severely damaged, stated that, “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.”
- Philanthropy and Grantmaking
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, St. Croix Foundation also launched the CARE Fund to provide direct support to front-line relief efforts and holistic, long-term recovery strategies. Since then, the Foundation has raised and reinvested over $1.8 million to support strategic, high impact initiatives in the Virgin Islands for hurricane preparedness, resilience, and recovery, to local nonprofits and a number of charitable projects under St. Croix Foundation’s fiscal sponsorship umbrella. One of those projects, St. Croix LTRG, is providing essential coordination and recovery assistance for individuals and families in our community with nowhere else left to turn for help. As of July, this grassroots organization has rebuilt over 73 homes and provided vital case management services for over 100 residents. The Foundation also stewarded an additional $275,000 in philanthropic resources from national funders that went directly to local recovery projects and nonprofit organizations.
Concurrently, the Foundation has made critical investments to grow the capacity of the nonprofit sector to meet the increased cultural and social services needs of our community as champions and facilitators of the Nonprofit Consortium, an impact-focused collaborative made up of 29 local nonprofit organizations. Today, the CARE Fund is a permanent Fund of the Foundation’s that is providing support for a targeted response to COVID-19 and will serve to support the Virgin Islands community through future disasters and crises.
According to Deanna James, “With COVID-19 upon us during a very active hurricane season, we know that now more than ever, the way forward for the USVI must be shaped by the unique assets and strengths of our community coupled with an unwavering commitment to equity. In the years to come, our community can count on the St. Croix Foundation to continue to do what we do best: leverage resources and cultivate deeply rooted local and national partnerships in order to catalyze holistic community development.”
For more information on the Foundation’s CARE Fund and disaster recovery work, visit www.stxfoundation.org or call 340.773.9898.