They could spend their days rocking on the porch and taking in St. John’s stellar views, but instead a group of Catherineberg villa owners joined forces to help the youngest of St. John’s children.
In 2008, they formed Kids First!, a nonprofit organization that provides needs-based tuition assistance for students at Gifft Hill School, St. John Christian Academy and Montessori School. Additionally, it does a slew of “one-off projects” to help schools where young children attend.
Five board members gathered at Jake’s Restaurant in Cruz Bay to talk about why they are involved when they don’t live on St. John full time.
“I can’t imagine going somewhere and not being involved,” Margaret Black said. She and her husband, Joel Black, live the rest of the year in Mansfield, Ohio. Koke Cummins also calls that Ohio town home. Founder Bruce Claflin and his wife, Kerry, spend the rest of the year in Isleboro, Me.
“I started becoming more concerned about the dropout rate in particular because there is not a lot of early education,” Kerry Claflin said.
Margaret Black started a school in Mansfield, and serves as a trustee for the Gifft Hill School. This year, she chairs the annual giving program.
“We came with previous experience,” she said. "It’s easy to make a difference."
She said the the need on St. John is so great, and it’s important to set students on the right path for the future.
Cummings wants to be part of St. John’s success and future, which is why he’s involved.
“I’ve had the privilege of coming to St. John since the 1960s, so I want to care and give back,” he said.
Although the Catherineberg residents are the core of the group, Bruce Claflin said that many vacation villa owners financially support the organization.
“We get great support from people who don’t live here,” he said.
He said donations arrive in small and large amounts from both individuals and businesses. Because the organization has no overhead, all the money goes into Kids First! programs.
Claflin observed that many of the Kids First! supporters are over 50, a situation he thinks came about because younger villa owners are too busy with their careers. He said those more youthful villa owners only spend a couple of weeks on St. John and don’t know how they can make a difference with the island’s younger residents.
The group decided to focus on younger residents because quality early childhood education is expensive. Bruce Claflin said the tuition assistance helps the students get a chance at a quality education. He said it also helps the schools provide it because tuition payments help pay expenses.
Kids First! help defray tuition costs. It does not pay the full cost.
“We want parents to have skin in the game,” Bruce Claflin said.
According to Claflin, the organization also provides matching grants to schools, helps defray the cost of eyeglasses through a program with Island Eyecare, paid the salary of a reading intervention teacher at Guy Benjamin School when the Education Department lacked funds, bought four e-book readers for Guy Benjamin School, and helped provide a wireless network at Julius E. Sprauve School.
While many of those who help fund Kids First! do so on an emotional level, Margaret Black said that it also helps protect the investments of off-island villa owners.
“Their investment would be enhanced by making St. John a better place,” she said.
To help Kids First!, visit www.kidsfirst.org.