78.5 F
Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 29, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesVOLUNTEERS MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN LA VALLEE

VOLUNTEERS MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN LA VALLEE

Oct. 14, 2001 – Her name is Meka. She is 7 years old, and she has come to her tutoring session in the village of La Vallee on the St. Croix North Shore between Rust-Op-Twist to the east and Cane Bay to the west. She doesn't understand what happened on Sept. 11 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, but she does understand that she is going to get some help doing her homework today.
Dressed in a neat skirt and blouse, her hair slicked back and held with colorful braided elastics, she is ready for her lessons.
Meka doesn't know how come she is getting help with her homework, either, although she knows well the three people responsible for providing this opportunity to the children of the village. Everyone knows them in La Vallee, a village down a rutted road off the North Shore Road that seems to head into the bush. And there, they are held in high regard.
Of the three founding members of the tutoring program, Melba Williams, has been in the village the longest — her entire life. A sturdy, handsome woman, her looks belie the fact that she has 12 children, who also call the village home. Meka is her granddaughter, and Meka attends class with her aunt, Williams' daughter "Baby," who is the same age as Meka.
"All of us who live here are related — we have some family that live over the hills there," Williams says, pointing toward Mount Eagle and to the south. "But we don't see them a lot," she adds. "They aren't really a part of the village community."
Being family in the village is a plus in that family ties produce strength in the community — and a minus in that family disagreements tend to be centralized more than if members were geographically apart.
In 1995, when Kelly Gloger moved to St. Croix after years of living and working on the Texas gulf coast, in Vermont and in California, he knew nothing about La Vallee. An architect and a biologist with a master of science degree in fisheries and wildlife, he had been hired to build and manage a hydroponics farm at Estate Bethlehem.
"When that program ended, I joined Caribbean Infra-Tech," Gloger said, to work with company president Onaje Jackson on projects throughout the Caribbean involving "sustainable infrastructure design, photovoltaics, energy conservation and environmental master planning."
One day, "Wasi, a friend of mine, took me to the village," he related. "I noticed kids playing with bicycles, many of which needed to be repaired, and I decided to try to organize a bicycle club."
Seeing a need inspires an idea
Gloger began visiting the village from time to time, taking three recycleable bikes with him each time and helping youngsters to fix their broken ones. One day, he asked the youngsters to write down lists of what they needed in the way of replacement parts. He discovered that one boy, Marlin, the seventh child of Melba Williams, was unable to do that.
"I wondered if there were perhaps others who had problems with writing," Gloger said, "so I went to Melba and asked if I could work with Marlin and perhaps others to improve their reading and writing skills."
Williams readily agreed, and they discussed possibilities for increasing the learning opportunities for children in La Vallee.
Gloger and a couple of other volunteers started working with some of the children — out of doors at first. Then they built a garden with six raised beds and held the tutoring sessions there.
"We inaugurated the garden with prayers and a local party," Williams said. Teens weren't much involved, but the young ones contributed mightily.
It soon became evident that building space was needed for the tutoring, though.
Most of the village buildings are old slave quarters, built to survive hurricanes but with few modern comforts — no running water, for example. A water truck delivers water for the village once a week, and the inhabitants fill bladders to supply their households until the next delivery.
Kelly accepted the offer of Melba's brother Larry to let the tutoring sessions take place temporarily in a building he had been using mostly for storage. One day, one of the students was seated on the outside steps there when a portion of the roof collapsed on her. Although she was not badly injured, it was clear the building needed serious repair.
Gloger and other volunteers repaired the roof and walls, cleaned up the interior, added several well-used but still useful chairs and a couple of writing tables, and installed two computers. The result was a rough but serviceable work space.
While on the Internet one day, Kelly "met" Donna Duffy, a teacher at Country Day School. From Queens, N.Y., to Puerto Rico in 1970, she came to St. Croix in 1998. Soon after, they met in person, and for more than a year Duffy has volunteered her time as a tutor for the La Vallee children — four or five times a week during the summer and at least two hours a week during the school year.
Strategic approach is succeeding
"I see a real difference in the students since they started the program," Duffy said. "Although initially they were very open to studying, they were poorly focused. Now, they seem to value education more."
Gloger and Duffy agree that a key for the program to succeed is to tie the tutoring into something of particular interest to each youngster. "In Marlin's case, for example," Gloger said, "his tutor, Duane, is using the test questions for getting a driver's license as the basis for improving his reading skills, because more than anything else, he wants someday to get a license."
Since Duffy signed on as a tutor, other members of the community have followed suit. Eight tutors are currently involved. With 15 students, seven more could immediately be put to work — and that's just to meet current needs.
Plans are afoot to build a La Vallee community center that would include not only classrooms and computers but also a neighborhood meeting area and a kitchen. Lisa Ferreira, an architect, has produced a design, and it's hoped that construction can begin soon. In the meantime, new classes are in the making. There are drums available for a drumming class, but they need to be repaired. Barbara Carmichael, recently retired from the security staff at the University of the Virgin Islands, has offered to conduct classes in making roti. And if some local benefactor will offer free Internet access, increased computer availability will round out a program that offers the students knowledge of the arts stretching from the earliest days to the present.
"We welcome volunteers to help with the tutoring," Gloger said. And for those who would see that as a sacrifice, Duffy adds, "It's an exciting way to contribute to our community, and it's a lot of fun."
Thanks to such efforts, when Meka is older, she will have the opportunity to study the history of her own community, making it part of the history of her world, along with such events as those of Sept. 11, 2001.
Anyone interested in volunteering to tutor in the program can reach Gloger at 778-4266 and Duffy at 719-5512.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

STAY CONNECTED

20,771FansLike
4,727FollowersFollow
Oct. 14, 2001 - Her name is Meka. She is 7 years old, and she has come to her tutoring session in the village of La Vallee on the St. Croix North Shore between Rust-Op-Twist to the east and Cane Bay to the west. She doesn't understand what happened on Sept. 11 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, but she does understand that she is going to get some help doing her homework today.
Dressed in a neat skirt and blouse, her hair slicked back and held with colorful braided elastics, she is ready for her lessons.
Meka doesn't know how come she is getting help with her homework, either, although she knows well the three people responsible for providing this opportunity to the children of the village. Everyone knows them in La Vallee, a village down a rutted road off the North Shore Road that seems to head into the bush. And there, they are held in high regard.
Of the three founding members of the tutoring program, Melba Williams, has been in the village the longest -- her entire life. A sturdy, handsome woman, her looks belie the fact that she has 12 children, who also call the village home. Meka is her granddaughter, and Meka attends class with her aunt, Williams' daughter "Baby," who is the same age as Meka.
"All of us who live here are related -- we have some family that live over the hills there," Williams says, pointing toward Mount Eagle and to the south. "But we don't see them a lot," she adds. "They aren't really a part of the village community."
Being family in the village is a plus in that family ties produce strength in the community -- and a minus in that family disagreements tend to be centralized more than if members were geographically apart.
In 1995, when Kelly Gloger moved to St. Croix after years of living and working on the Texas gulf coast, in Vermont and in California, he knew nothing about La Vallee. An architect and a biologist with a master of science degree in fisheries and wildlife, he had been hired to build and manage a hydroponics farm at Estate Bethlehem.
"When that program ended, I joined Caribbean Infra-Tech," Gloger said, to work with company president Onaje Jackson on projects throughout the Caribbean involving "sustainable infrastructure design, photovoltaics, energy conservation and environmental master planning."
One day, "Wasi, a friend of mine, took me to the village," he related. "I noticed kids playing with bicycles, many of which needed to be repaired, and I decided to try to organize a bicycle club."
Seeing a need inspires an idea
Gloger began visiting the village from time to time, taking three recycleable bikes with him each time and helping youngsters to fix their broken ones. One day, he asked the youngsters to write down lists of what they needed in the way of replacement parts. He discovered that one boy, Marlin, the seventh child of Melba Williams, was unable to do that.
"I wondered if there were perhaps others who had problems with writing," Gloger said, "so I went to Melba and asked if I could work with Marlin and perhaps others to improve their reading and writing skills."
Williams readily agreed, and they discussed possibilities for increasing the learning opportunities for children in La Vallee.
Gloger and a couple of other volunteers started working with some of the children -- out of doors at first. Then they built a garden with six raised beds and held the tutoring sessions there.
"We inaugurated the garden with prayers and a local party," Williams said. Teens weren't much involved, but the young ones contributed mightily.
It soon became evident that building space was needed for the tutoring, though.
Most of the village buildings are old slave quarters, built to survive hurricanes but with few modern comforts -- no running water, for example. A water truck delivers water for the village once a week, and the inhabitants fill bladders to supply their households until the next delivery.
Kelly accepted the offer of Melba's brother Larry to let the tutoring sessions take place temporarily in a building he had been using mostly for storage. One day, one of the students was seated on the outside steps there when a portion of the roof collapsed on her. Although she was not badly injured, it was clear the building needed serious repair.
Gloger and other volunteers repaired the roof and walls, cleaned up the interior, added several well-used but still useful chairs and a couple of writing tables, and installed two computers. The result was a rough but serviceable work space.
While on the Internet one day, Kelly "met" Donna Duffy, a teacher at Country Day School. From Queens, N.Y., to Puerto Rico in 1970, she came to St. Croix in 1998. Soon after, they met in person, and for more than a year Duffy has volunteered her time as a tutor for the La Vallee children -- four or five times a week during the summer and at least two hours a week during the school year.
Strategic approach is succeeding
"I see a real difference in the students since they started the program," Duffy said. "Although initially they were very open to studying, they were poorly focused. Now, they seem to value education more."
Gloger and Duffy agree that a key for the program to succeed is to tie the tutoring into something of particular interest to each youngster. "In Marlin's case, for example," Gloger said, "his tutor, Duane, is using the test questions for getting a driver's license as the basis for improving his reading skills, because more than anything else, he wants someday to get a license."
Since Duffy signed on as a tutor, other members of the community have followed suit. Eight tutors are currently involved. With 15 students, seven more could immediately be put to work -- and that's just to meet current needs.
Plans are afoot to build a La Vallee community center that would include not only classrooms and computers but also a neighborhood meeting area and a kitchen. Lisa Ferreira, an architect, has produced a design, and it's hoped that construction can begin soon. In the meantime, new classes are in the making. There are drums available for a drumming class, but they need to be repaired. Barbara Carmichael, recently retired from the security staff at the University of the Virgin Islands, has offered to conduct classes in making roti. And if some local benefactor will offer free Internet access, increased computer availability will round out a program that offers the students knowledge of the arts stretching from the earliest days to the present.
"We welcome volunteers to help with the tutoring," Gloger said. And for those who would see that as a sacrifice, Duffy adds, "It's an exciting way to contribute to our community, and it's a lot of fun."
Thanks to such efforts, when Meka is older, she will have the opportunity to study the history of her own community, making it part of the history of her world, along with such events as those of Sept. 11, 2001.
Anyone interested in volunteering to tutor in the program can reach Gloger at 778-4266 and Duffy at 719-5512.