The award will be presented at a ceremony Feb. 23 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the University of the Virgin Islands Administration and Conference Center’s first floor conference room. Organizers said the public is invited to attend this event, but cautioned that seating is limited and will be on a “first-come, first-served” basis.
The award is funded by a group that chooses to remain anonymous. The award is given “by citizens, to citizens,” the organizers said. Those who wish to get involved can learn more at http://helengjessingawardusvi.com/.
Martin is the mother of five children – Ayinde, Naima, Ariel, Amad and Lukata – “while providing a mother’s love to numerous youth throughout the world,” the organizers said.
Her professional career began in 1979 after she earned a master’s degree in blind rehabilitation. She has provided orientation and travel skills, Braille and vision training and other vision services to blind and visually impaired children and adults throughout the United States, Kuwait, Egypt, and in 1994 with the Virgin Islands Department of Education.
Martin continues to provide services to various organizations to address issues of people with a disability in the Virgin Islands, including VI Find, Center for Independent Living, and the VI Special Olympic – St. Thomas.
Martin is also involved in keeping local culture alive, working with organizations, including the Pan-African Support Group, Afrikan Liberation Day, Rastafari Improvement Association, Kwanzaa 365, Sankofa Saturdays, Per Ankh, Inc., Queens of the Earth, and the African Diaspora Youth Development Foundation.
She also served eight years with the Dollar for Dollar Coal Carrying Annual Commemoration and 10 years with the St. John African Slave Revolution Annual Commemoration.
Other organizations with which she has worked include the Environmental Rangers, Environmental Association of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands Recycle Partnership, V.I. Waste Management Authority Community Advisor Board, Camp Umoja Academy, the Virgin Islands Conservation Society and Green Thumb Farm the Future Development Committee.
“In short, Benita is a caretaker of mother earth, continually involved in projects contributing to improved conditions and resources critical to healthy on-island farming practices,” the news release said. “She is a vital member of the Bordeaux Farmers Annual Agriculture and Cultural Fair and the Bordeaux Farmer’s Market, as well as, the 1998, 2004, and 2005 Agriculture & Culture Summer Camp.”
The award is named in honor of Helen Gjessing, a St. Thomas resident since 1958, an environmental activist who taught biology for 34 years at UVI. She was given the first “Connie” award from the National Wildlife Federation, has emeritus status at UVI, and served on and chaired the League of Women Voters’ Planning and Environmental Quality Committee, tirelessly reviewing countless permit applications and reports on behalf of territorial environmental protections.
Based on suggestions from the public on persons deserving of the award, each year’s recipient will join with Gjessing and anonymous founders of the event in the decision for the following year’s recipient of the award.
The public is invited to submit suggestions for the next recipient of the HG Community Service Award using the submissions link on the above website.
Sponsors for the Feb. 23 event include UVI, the St. Thomas Restaurant Group, Buddha Sushi, WUVI Student Radio Station, Sankofa Saturdays Youth Initiative, DaraMonifah.com, and Cheryl Rae.