In the last few weeks, hundreds of Virgin Island adults and youth have learned how to recognize their inner strengths and live harmonious lives from Dara Feldman, chairwoman of the Virtues Project International Association, on her third trip to the territory since 2011.
The Virtues Project is a global initiative, active in more than 100 countries, with the goal to instill the practice of virtues into everyday life, according to Feldman.
“The goal is to bring out the best in yourself and others and help remember who you are,” she said.
Feldman, an author and educator with more than 30 years experience, was recognized by Steve Jobs of Apple Computer and won the Computerworld Smithsonian Award in Education and Academia in 2000. She also was recognized as Disney’s 2005 outstanding elementary teacher and Educator of the Year by the National Association for Self-Esteem in 2009.
She has held offices in several education organizations and has traveled around the globe teaching with the Virtues Project. After the Virgin Islands, Feldman has workshops scheduled in Australia and Singapore.
In 2011, the Virtues Project was introduced in the Virgin Islands through sponsorship by the V.I. Department of Human Services, the Department of Education, the Governor’s Children and Families Council and the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. At that time, Feldman said about 30 teachers, nurses and social workers were certified as facilitators in the five-day course and more than 100 community members took the two-day introductory course.
Today those facilitators have trained others and started afterschool and Saturday programs teaching art and health, Feldman said.
This year, more than 300 people will have taken the introductory course and 60 employees of VIDHS and VIDOE will have been certified by the end of the week.
In addition to the workshops with government employees, Feldman held a workshop with staff and parents of the Lockhart Elementary School on St. Thomas and returned last night to share her presentation in English and Spanish. A firefighter who attended the session at Lockhart said that a lot of people come to the territory with various ideas and projects but leave and are never heard from again.
“This can’t happen” to the Virtues Project, he said.
While on St. Croix, Feldman gave virtues workshops at Project Link, the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix’s high school completion class, and to staff and inmates at the Youth Rehabilitation Center.
Seventeen youth participated at the YRC workshop where “they totally get it,” Feldman told the Source. Asked how she connected with the young adults, Feldman said she explained to them why she was there.
“I’m here to introduce you to yourself and make amends, an apology, for the adults who didn’t support you and your strengths, because you didn’t get here on your own,” she said.
She went on to explain “strength virtues” that everyone possesses and “growth virtues” that are harder to develop.
Feldman said virtues and values are not the same thing. Virtues are “universal positive quality traits,” agreed on by all cultures, like responsibility and patience. Values are culture or group specific such as the value placed on money and are not necessarily virtues.
Justice, kindness, cleanliness and reliability are some of the 52 virtues discussed in books published by the Virtues Project. In support of the Virtues Project, the Source will feature one virtue each week. The books and lists of virtues are available at www.virtuesproject.org.
Feldman said the Virtues Project will mentor participants throughout the year through Skype, Facebook, webinars and reading materials. She said she hopes to partner with local businesses and organizations in the future.
“These are Virtues Islands. People are ready for it, ready for a change,” she said and highly recommended the locally produced recording, “Virgin Islands Nice,” on YouTube, a song “totally about virtues,” she added.
The Virtues Project was founded in 1991 by three individuals who used Harvard University data and research of world cultures to build their mission statement. Linda Kavelin Popov, her husband Dan Popov and her brother John Kavelin concluded virtues are universal and can bring meaning into children’s lives.
Developing virtues can overcome the boredom that leads to random acts of violence, they determined. As a result, the trio wrote the Family Virtues Guide in 1995 that has become an international bestseller. The Virtues Project has been recognized by the Dalai Lama.
There are five strategies to teach practitioners to live purposeful lives and raise children with good character. The strategies taught in the course by Feldman include using positive, inspirational terms rather than discouraging words and recognizing teachable moments.
Other strategies include setting clear, respectful boundaries to create a peaceful atmosphere and to listen compassionately. Another strategy encourages incorporating virtues into activities and surroundings.
This year, the sponsors included VIDHS, Lutheran Social Services, Edouard Foundation, Ib designs and the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.