On Thursday evening, attendees of the Family Resource Center’s Peacemaker gala were inspired by the long-term efforts of Paula Edwards and Shaun Pennington to make the Virgin Islands a safer and more just place to live.
Each year dozens of community members turnout for the Peacemaker Gala that honors individuals like Edwards and Pennington for their community service efforts.
Vernon Araujo, FRC’s director of development, said that Edwards’ name came up as a potential awardee after a community member praised her dedication and made a donation in her honor.
He said Pennington “always steps up to the plate to help the FRC and has been doing so since ‘before most of us were on staff.’”
A committee comprising board and community members nominates peacemaker honorees and then the board affirms the selection.
Mary Gleason, a member of FRC’s board of directors, said the award’s purpose is to bring attention to the great need for more dedicated people to serve others who are struggling.
“The amazing amount of community involvement from both of these ladies is incredible and they greatly deserve these honors,” said Gleason.
Raul Carrillo, FRC’s board chairman, echoed this sentiment. “It’s important to recognize people who do good in the community and help it to heal.”
“These women give of themselves day after day,” Carrillo said.
“Mrs. Edwards has been a volunteer coordinator with the FRC for a number of years and Mrs. Pennington has supported the FRC in many ways and has been instrumental in organizing events that promote peace.”
Edwards, who was born on St. Thomas, has been a victim advocate at the Family Resource Center for the last 16 years, and is the treasurer of the Girl Scouts of America, a member of the League of Women Voters and the National Notary Assoc., and is serving her second term as president of the Inner Wheel Club of St. Thomas, as well as her first term as the Inner Wheel National district delegate.
Pennington, who has lived on St. Thomas since 1981, founded the first online newspaper in the territory, the Virgin Islands Source, for which she was awarded the Rotary Person of the Year award in 2001. Her other community endeavors have included being a board member of SHINE, the organization that sought to provide support for those affected by HIV/AIDS’ co-organizing the Peace Summit; cofounding the Rwanda Project USVI; and more recently cofounding the annual Sunrise Rotary Kids Triathlon.
As a part of the ceremony, the honorees each selected two close friends to talk about their community work in a short, heartfelt video.
Based on the amount of community work both women do in addition to their regular day-to-day work obligations, friends marveled at each woman’s time management skills.
Edwards’ coworkers at FirstBank joked that she must really be more than one person given the amount of community service she regularly partakes in when she’s not working.
During her acceptance speech, Edwards emphasized the importance of having empathy and compassion for those who have fallen on hard times.
“As a proud victim’s advocate, …I accept this honor not just for myself, but for the FRC and other victim advocates,” Edwards said.
LaVerne Ragster, who has worked with Pennington to organize many community initiatives, said her longtime friend works tirelessly to decrease violence in the Virgin Islands and that the territory needs more citizens like Pennington.
Speaking to Pennington’s determined spirit, Ragster and Cecil deJongh both commended the journalist and community advocate for her solution-oriented attitude, noting how she rarely talks about a problem without already brainstorming how to solve it first.
Pennington said, “We were put here for one reason and that is to serve,” adding that helping others has brought her happiness by giving her life purpose.
Pennington said James O’Dea, author of “Cultivating Peace: Becoming a 21st Century Peace Ambassador,” has greatly influenced how she approaches peacemaking. From O’Dea, Pennington said she learned “Peace is not passive,” meaning that ending violence is an active pursuit.
Based on St. Thomas, the FRC is a nonprofit agency that has worked for more than 35 years to end family violence in the Virgin Islands by offering counseling programs and shelter for victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
According to the FRC, the V.I. Police Department receives more than 2,000 calls related to domestic and child abuse issues each year. If the shelter didn’t exist, many of the victims would not receive the support they need to recover from these acts of violence.
With a limited budget and ever-growing needs in the community, the gala is a major fundraiser for the FRC. The center provides support 24 hours a day and runs a shelter that serves the most vulnerable victims on St. Thomas.
“We encourage everyone to take up the charge and be peacemakers like these two women are in our community,” Araujo said.