Dec. 9, 2003 For the last four years the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) has distributed statistical reports that often show an urgent need to address the precarious state of children and families in the Virgin Islands.
On Tuesday the foundation announced its plans to help economically disadvantaged children in the territory reach their potential by building a new Community Child Care Center that will provide educational services and resources as well as child care to at-risk youngsters in the Virgin Islands.
The first donation of $50,000 has already been received and the CFVI is ready to turn the dream into a reality.
"We are committed to doing this. The next steps are to develop a plan, and to look for the site (to locate the new center)," CFVI Chairman Ricardo Charaf said.
The Community Foundation hopes to follow the example of Delray Beach, a small community in Florida with a tourism-based/ seasonal economy, which started with $4,000 and a dream that grew into a center that educates, feeds and takes care of 265 children. The center in Florida now has 40 employees and three buses with before-school, after-school and pre-school programs.
The Community Foundation has met with focus groups comprised of child care providers and parents and conducted a survey of 500 parents in the territory about their day-care needs.
After analyzing statistics, CFVI determined that a pre-school educational day-care center could reverse trends that show children growing up poor are at greater risk of falling behind in the classroom.
According to the VI Kids Count 2003 study released on Monday, "Participation in high-quality early childhood care and educational programs can have substantial positive effects on children's cognitive, language, and social development. Children who are at risk because of poverty, family disruption, or other factors can benefit particularly from such programs (which) have been shown to provide: greater readiness for school, greater grade promotion, reduced need for placement in remedial special education programs, higher rates of high school graduation and decreased involvement with the criminal justice system."
Judith Richardson, co-director of the USVI Kids Count Study, said children below the federal poverty line stand a greater chance of going into school behind because they are less likely to have access to books and other educational materials. Richardson said some children enter the public school system with a vocabulary of 1,000 fewer words than their classmates.
"Good quality child care is the first big step to breaking the cycle of poverty," she said.
Nancy Hurd, executive director of the Community Child Care Center of Delray Beach, Fla., couldn't agree more.
"If children go into school that far behind, they will stay there. Our school systems are not designed to play catch-up. They have too much on their plate," Hurd said.
Hurd spoke at the Kids Count seminar Tuesday and shared her insight into how a community with many of the same disparities in economics and race developed an educational program that improved the performance of students in school. With 20 students and a budget of only $4,000 — including salaries — the program recruited teachers, musicians, dance instructors and others in the community to help educate children before and after school.
"We brought retired teachers, musicians, dance teachers and others in the community over and said 'teach our children,' Hurd said. "We did things that were unheard of."
According to Hurd, 92 cents of every dollar gets spent directly on the children at the Delray center, which relies solely on private-sector donations and U.S. Agriculture Department food program grants to keep it running.
She added that it costs $36,500 to keep a child in a juvenile justice center, and only $5,000 to keep a child in an early childhood center such as the one in Delray.
Although there's no shortage of debate about how to improve the education and life for poverty-stricken children, Hurd said, "It's almost embarrassingly simple to reverse" the trends of juvenile crime, poverty and dropout rates for children.
The Delray community facility was the result of hard work, tenacity and never giving up despite the odds, Hurd said.
CFVI President Dee Baecher-Brown has visited the center in Delray, and the Community Foundation is now working to secure private donations and help from professionals, teachers, musicians and others in the community to establish a center in the territory similar to that in Delray Beach.
For more information on the drive to build a child care facility in the Virgin Islands, contact the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands at 774-6031.
For more information about the Delray Center, visit
its web site.
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