Feb. 26, 2006 — Chris Finch is one of those rare individuals who always knew what he wanted to do in life: help the most vulnerable of society. With that desire, Finch arrived in the Virgin Islands in the early '80s, armed with a bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Texas in Austin.
His journey to the islands was on a whim and the promise of tropical life. "My college girlfriend wanted to live by the water," Finch said. "It sounded good to me."
The pair first settled on St. Thomas. Finch said at that time he knew very little about the Caribbean, but "St. Thomas seemed the place to go."
They arrived on island on a Labor Day weekend to find all the places to rent were taken. After more research they realized there seemed to be a lot more things happening on St. Croix in the way of social work, so they moved there.
In 1983, after a short stint at the Department of Human Services, Finch applied for a federal grant to address child abuse issues. He wanted to establish a teen hotline in the Virgin Islands.
"There was a real need for a telephone counselor," Finch said.
Finch spoke to officials at the Queen Louise Home for Children, a project of Lutheran Social Services (LSS) V.I., who promised to house the program if it was funded. The grant went through and Finch became the coordinator.
"We had the first teen hotline and teen improvisation group," Finch said. "We were the first to do that."
Eight years later Finch decided to enroll in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University to get a master's in public administration. "Alex Moorhead [Hovensa vice president] and Ken Mapp [PFA executive director] went to that school, too," Finch remarked.
While at Kennedy, Finch contemplated his next career move. "I didn't really think I would be returning to the V.I.," Finch said.
But fate led him back when he was awarded a grant from Kennedy to work at LSS. It was around that time, when Finch returned to St. Croix, that he met his wife, Eleanor. The couple have two children: Aaron, a senior at Haverford College in Philadelphia, and Andrea, who is a freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania.
"I'm an empty nester now," Finch said with a laugh.
Finch's work at LSS has distinguished him among social workers. In February, Rotary Mid Isle named him Person of the Year for his professional commitment. And last year he was inducted into the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller, which recognizes individuals who dedicate themselves to the service of the sick. Finch has also been named Social Worker of the Year.
During his tenure at LSS, Finch has introduced several new programs or adjusted ongoing programs to fit the needs of the changing population.
In addition to the teen hot line and improvisation group, Finch has been instrumental in starting the adult supervised group homes at Ginger Thomas and Genip Gardens in St. Croix and Yellow Cedar and Ebenezer Gardens in St. Thomas.
"It's been very satisfying to be a part of these programs," Finch said.
When asked if there is still something he wants to accomplish or experience, Finch goes right back to what is most important to him.
"I am always trying to create a continuum of care for our clients," Finch said. "There is still a need for assisted-living facilities and nursing homes in the territory."
It's obvious Finch's enthusiasm lies in seeing a need and filling it. He draws from memory one of the many sayings he keeps for just the right moment.
"A blank sheet of paper is God's way of showing how hard it is to be a creator," he says.
And then Finch leaves us with one last thought: "If you are in charge of an organization and you don't have a list of 10 things to do to expand your program – then you need to quit and let someone new run the show. I've got a list much longer than that," he said.
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