Dec. 19, 2005 Roosevelt Park on St. Thomas is a special place for members of We From Upstreet Inc., an organization dedicated to preserving the historical integrity of the island's downtown area.
"This park is where most of us used to play when we were growing up in the 1950s and 1960s," said Hillis Lewis-Edelen, Upstreet's founder. "It was a center for activities, and it was right near Abraham Lincoln School now J. Antonio Jarvis Elementary School, which most of us used to attend."
Lewis-Edelen said that the group's love of the park is what prompted them to begin holding holiday festivities there every year.
"It's something we've done for the past ten years. We make sure all the trees are lit, we provide entertainment for community members, and most of all, we make sure that on this night, the park is a place where people can come, gather with friends, and feel at peace during the Christmas season."
Joining approximately 100 residents at Roosevelt Park on Monday evening, Lewis-Edelen and other Upstreet members made sure that this year was no exception. In addition to having the popular P'Your Passion Band perform under the warm glow of the trees' twinkling holiday lights, community members were also able to dance along to seasonal music sung by Voices of Love, Party Hardies Carolers, and tunes by Cliff & Friends of We From Upstreet.
James O'Bryan, St. Thomas administrator, also spoke briefly at the event. He praised the group for its hard work.
"It really is a wonderful time in the V.I. once again," he said. "A time we can all gather together in unity and love at one of the greatest traditional events in the territory."
O'Bryan said that the government will soon be joining forces with We From Upstreet to maintain the park.
"We plan to revitalize and uplift a lot of things here," he said after his speech. "The whole project is going to cost $500,000, and it's going to begin in the next few weeks."
While O'Bryan said the project comes as a stipulation of an EDC benefits package, but he could not recall the name of the company receiving the benefits.
"It really is going to be something great that the community can benefit from, though," he said.
Upstreet's current president, Naomi A. Monsanto, also greeted the crowd Monday evening, and encouraged others to join We From Upstreet. Monsanto told residents that the group began in 1995, after Lewis-Edelen realized the need for an organization to reunite members from the old "Upstreet" neighborhood a large chunk of St. Thomas that stretches from the Grand Hotel and Lover's Lane on the western and eastern sides of the island, along with the Waterfront area and all of Hospital Ground on the southern and northern sides.
"As a non-profit organization, we raise money and solicit donations for the projects we undertake," she explained after her speech. "One of the biggest things we do every year is this event, which takes a lot of work to organize."
Austin "Babe" Monsanto, chair of the parks committee for Upstreet, agreed.
"There's so much that goes into doing something like this," he said. "But we always get tons of help, both from the community and from our sponsors, who also help us by donating money."
He added that organizations such as the West Indian Company Ltd., the Junior Firefighters, the Water and Power Authority, and the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands were some of this year's top sponsors.
Jennifer Toussaint, faculty advisor for Charlotte Amalie High School's Interact Club, said her group also lent a hand.
"The kids in Interact were able to participate, and actually ended up hanging up most of the lights around the perimeter of the park. They really loved it some even ended up competing against each other to see who could do the best job," she said.
Toussaint added that the event is something that she looks forward to every year.
"Even if the kids didn't want to help out, I would still be here," she joked. "I love Roosevelt Park at Christmas time."
Festivities will continue at the park on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Activities include:
— Tuesday (Youth Night): Dober Elementary School Choir, St. Andrews Episcopal Church Youth Choir, and Frederick Lutheran Church Youth Steel Orchestra.
–Wednesday (Cultural Dance Night): Milo's Kings, Lockhart Elementary Youth and Adult Cultural Dancers, Mungo Niles Cultural Dancers, and the St. Thomas Heritage Dancers.
All activities begin at 7 p.m.
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