March 24, 2005 Most St. John residents know Alvis Christian, V.I. Territorial Emergency Management's deputy director, but his real passion shines through when he talks about his work developing the John's Folly Learning Institute.
After spending most of his adult life in New York, Christian returned home to St. John in 1991. He found the Horace Mann School he attended as a child covered with brush and the inside filled with animal waste.
"Tears came to my eyes," he said, talking about what galvanized him into creating a place for area children to learn.
The route to creating the John's Folly Learning Institute was as long and twisting as the road that runs past the building. First, Christian said he had to negotiate the 20-year renewable lease with the local government. Then came the arduous task of hacking away the bush that covered the building, and shoveling out the animal waste that had accumulated inside the vacant building.
Christian said the group successfully got a Community Development Block Grant that enabled them to make infrastructure developments. They negotiated a deal with contractor Joey Vanterpool, and sold a lot of chicken legs and potato salad at food sales to raise money to continue improvements.
Indeed, Christian is so passionate about the Institute, he doesn't let any opportunity go by to promote its fundraising efforts. So, if you're passing the Coral Bay triangle on Transfer Day, March 31, look for the John's Folly Learning Institute folk's tent. They're having a food and plant sale.
Christian said he is so determined to keep the John's Folly Learning Institute on its feet because it started its life as an educational facility, and he wants it to continue that way.
He has plans to construct another building on the property to serve as a marine science center. The Institute already has a garden filled with plants used for food and bush medicines.
"We need a research and development program to grow our economy," he said, pushing for more self-sufficiency for the territory.
The program now serves 25 children in an after-school program.
He envisions industries like fish farming as one way to lower prices for both residents and visitors, and to lessen the dependence on imported goods.
Christian was born on St. Thomas to St. John residents Muriel Dalmida and Eric Christian Sr. 54 years ago. He recalls growing up in Hard Labor as an almost idyllic time, although there was no electricity, water came from a well, his mother cooked on a coal pot, and he walked nearly a mile to Horace Mann School.
"And we had to be on time," he said.
After Horace Mann School, he went on to Benjamin Franklin School in Coral Bay, now named Guy Benjamin School, to Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay, and then to Charlotte Amalie High School. Christian said he stayed with a cousin on St. Thomas during the week, which made attending school easier.
Christian joined the U.S. Navy soon after his 1968 graduation from High School, going to basic training at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois.
"Oh, my goodness, it was cold," he said.
After a tour of duty in Vietnam, he settled in the Bronx. He commuted to Manhattan every day to work in the bond transfer market at Manufacturers Hanover Trust, moving on to Payne Webber. Along the way, he received his associate's degree in business management from Monroe Business Institute.
"I loved New York, but I always knew I would come home," he said.
Back on St. John, he worked as a researcher for St. Thomas attorney Carl Purcell before joining VITEMA in 1996. He soon got involved in activities at Emmaus Moravian Church in Coral Bay, and became a member of the executive board.
While the John's Folly Learning Institute, VITEMA and church activities keep him plenty busy, he still finds time to travel. He said he likes to take in a baseball or basketball game when he gets off island.
He keeps up with his son, Alvis Christian Jr., 32, who lives in New York.
And when asked, he weighs in on St. John's rapid growth. "The key is to make sure things are planned," Christian said. He said that the quiet, the scenery and the beauty that kept St. John natives home and brought many to the island's shores are fast eroding.
Christian said that while many of his peers left long ago for better opportunities, those that remain must do their part to protect St. John.
"I caught the tale end of what St. John used to be," he said, speaking fondly of those long-ago days growing up in Hard Labor.
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.