Dec. 1, 2003 Shortly after 9:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 1, in an unassuming rehearsal room tucked away inside the Music Education Building on the University of the Virgin Islands St. Thomas campus, UVI President LaVerne E. Ragster unveiled a new program that will, if all goes as planned, herald a chorus of sweet notes for the territory's business community and motivated citizens in the years ahead.
The Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning Center, or UVI-CELL, came out of an earlier effort by the university to provide information technology and hospitality-industry training to 60 individuals with low or moderate incomes. This first endeavor, a pilot program launched just over a year ago called the Workforce and Economic Development Institute grew quickly, according to a university statement, offering professional training throughout the territory, though still on a modest scale.
Now, with the introduction of CELL, the initial idea has taken on whole new dimensions: a series of budding partnerships with local and national businesses as well as the U.S. government.
Ragster, speaking at a Monday press conference, said that she and her colleagues have been looking for ways to increase the level of interaction the university has with the community. "The university should be a constantly changing, constantly evolving entity, because where the territory goes, the university goes, too," Ragster said. "The university and the community can only survive and thrive together."
And it looks like surviving and thriving are already on the agenda, as in the first moments of CELL's official existence Program Director Ilene Garner announced that the center was the recipient of a $541,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development .
The grant, which will be doled out during the next three years, is earmarked for "critical community development" throughout the territory, with special attention given to St. Croix, according to UVI. What this means for Garner and the CELL team, specifically, is an opportunity to participate in the revitalization of Frederiksted and provide training that will open up new career possibilities for V.I. residents.
CELL and Our Town Frederiksted, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the renovation and preservation of that town, will be partnering with King's Caribbean Coffee, a beneficiary of the Economic Development Commission.
Clinn L. Cole, managing partner at King's, has been in the V.I. for the past 11 months working on the project. When Garner ceded him the podium at the press conference, he outlined his company's goals in the territory in broad strokes. "I'm passionate about coffee," he said. "I'm passionate about providing and maintaining the highest quality of service, and I want to grow this operation from inside the territory, not just bring in staff from the outside."
"We talked about a dream." Cole said, referring to his company's new collaboration with CELL and OTF. "We talked about a partnership." .
The dream, right now, begins in a dilapidated building in Frederiksted. But, according to the director of OTF's "Operation Cleanup" Bully Petersen, the building won't be that way for long. "We've been doing this kind of revitalization work here in Frederiksted for 14 years," Petersen said, commenting on plans to turn the building into a community outreach center that will soon function as a training facility for CELL.
For their end of the deal, King's has teamed with Illinois-based beverage-equipment manufacturer Bunn-O-Matic, and together they will provide training, service expertise and equipment for the venture. Eventually King's will also supply jobs. According to Cole, the organization plans to employ as many as 30 local residents in roles that will run the gamut from service technicians to management.
"And it's not just for today," Cole said. "We want to train people so that they will understand the technology and be able to service new equipment and customers in the future."
Cole also addressed the longer-range goals of his company's collaboration with CELL at the conference. He said he wanted "to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit, to train a staff for King's that will then have the ability to open their own businesses in the future."
It probably bodes well that the first of CELL's partnerships is with a coffee concern, because with the fledgling center's ambitious list of offerings, it looks like the staff is going to have a lot of late nights and early mornings.
In addition to their work with OTF and King's, CELL will also provide classes, programs and services to V.I. residents and businesses.
Educational offerings for adults in the territory will include everything from real-estate licensing-preparation courses and instruction in Web design to business administration and writing classes. And as a result of the university's recent partnership with the American Management Association, the center will also be able to offer a variety of business-related certification programs to people in the territory and throughout the Eastern Caribbean.
In addition, the center will utilize the expertise of staff and faculty at the university by offering corporate training, consulting and other professional services to businesses throughout the region.
Ragster summed up the university's hopes for the joint project during her remarks. "There are people who try to change the whole territory all at once," she said, "but you can't do it that way. This is an enterprise of scale. It's right-sized. One Virgin Islander at a time, we will be able to strengthen the skills and abilities of the whole workforce. People will leave this process with skills they can use for the rest of their lives."
For more information on CELL and to see a complete list of classes and services, visit its Web site.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.