Open forum: Community Foundation of V.I. Declares ‘We Lifted Each Other Up’

To our fellow Virgin Islanders, and all who hold our islands in their hearts:

Waking up on September 6, 2018, we were greeted by sun, a slight breeze, and surrounded by beautiful blue waters; nevertheless, we were mindful that just one year ago Hurricanes Irma and then Maria were about to make landfall in the Virgin Islands; ravaging our homes, displacing our families and destroying our businesses in two of the costliest, most destructive hurricanes in American history. In hours, the winds of destruction wiped away what so many had spent their entire lives building.

The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) knows firsthand just how significant a challenge we all faced then and continue to face today. In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, CFVI established a number of special funds to support both immediate and long-term relief and jump-start community renewal efforts. The Fund for the Virgin Islands was created the day after Hurricane Irma to respond to donors asking “how can we help?” Before Hurricane Maria made landfall, the CFVI Board of Directors had already established the Friends and Families Fund for USVI Renewal. More than 15 additional funds and fiscal sponsorships have since been established by generous donors to CFVI for the purpose of helping the Virgin Islands and Virgin Islanders to recover.

Over the past year, more than 10,000 individual donors and institutions provided over $15 million in donations and grants. People who wanted to make a difference but didn’t know how or where to start were able to pool their resources with like-minded stakeholders and target help where it was most needed.

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To date, CFVI has awarded more than $11 million in disaster-related grants, including emergency grants to local organizations, funding for long-term recovery projects on all three islands, and $250,000 in scholar-grants to students who suffered hardships (click here to meet one of these students, and stay tuned for more scholar profiles). Thanks to CFVI friends, partners, and donors, we were able to support immediate, on-the-ground assistance for the community’s most pressing needs, needs that might not otherwise have been met. These grants have all enabled essential work in the recovery process, crucial support in the most critical of times.

Committed as always to our core mission, children and families have been an important focus of our efforts over the past year. A grant in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers provided health screenings for public-school students, who are now being identified for follow-up needs, such as glasses and hearing assistance devices. An emergency response grant to the Virgin Islands Children’s Museum, whose facility was damaged beyond use, launched a Mobile Museum program serving over 2,500 children, parents, and teachers on St. Thomas and St. John. While many schools remained on split-session schedules, grantees like Dancing Classrooms VI, Love City Pan Dragons, Mentoring through the Arts of Music, Project Promise, St. John School of the Arts, St. Thomas Reformed Church, and World Ocean School provided enriching in- and out-of-school programming.

Recognizing that natural disasters often disproportionately affect financially vulnerable residents, CFVI quickly expanded its long-standing Rapid Response program, providing block grants to 4 social services agencies across the Territory (Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, Methodist Training and Outreach Center, and VI Partners for Healthy Communities), who then worked directly with low-income clients to identify and meet critical emergency needs such as medical care and replacement of essential household items like beds and refrigerators. Emergency response grants to My Brother’s Workshop, My Brother’s Table, and The Salvation Army supported free feeding programs in some of the hardest-hit communities. With gratitude for their service under extreme conditions, CFVI also provided grants to financially vulnerable health care workers through Juan F. Luis Hospital and Schneider Regional Medical Center.

Even as we knew how important it was to try and restore a sense of normalcy for residents both young and old, we also knew that the hurricanes left behind long-term scars – both seen and unseen. After the storms, CFVI provided financial support and a home for the IGGI Project, using culturally-relevant themes – including the main character, iggi the Iguana – to acknowledge and address the emotional trauma suffered by children and families on all the islands. Other grants have boosted substance abuse and behavioral health services, set the stage for enhanced mental health services for public school students, and recognized the need to “help the helpers” by supporting counseling for medical workers and other first responders.

We are privileged to work with community partners who are investing in the long-term health and longevity of the islands’ residents and preserving and enhancing our beloved way of life. And these are just some examples of the efforts of our over 100 grantees, whose work spans emergency rescue and direct relief to animal welfare, cultural artifacts and the environment! At year-end, CFVI will release a comprehensive report detailing all of our hurricane-related efforts, including funds received, partnerships established, and grants disbursed.

As of September 30, 2018, all the funds donated to CFVI’s first hurricane fund, the Fund for the Virgin Islands, will have been fully disbursed. In its place we are launching a new fund to sustain and expand the significant progress in rebuilding and restoring our islands. We want this fund to be your effort as much as it is ours, which is why we are inviting you to help by entering the Name our USVI Community Renewal Fund Contest. The winning name will be chosen by the CFVI Board of Directors and the winner will have the opportunity to award a USVI nonprofit of their choice with a grant of $1,000. To enter, complete the submission form here (or send your suggestion to [email protected]) by September 21st.

After the storms showed us the worst Mother Nature had to offer, our community showed us the very best of humanity: family, friends, neighbors and even strangers coming together in remarkable ways. Community by community, home by home, we have made a difference. We helped each other. We lifted each other up. And, in doing so, we demonstrated to the world our unshakable resolve. Together, let us carry on the task of rebuilding a stronger, more resilient USVI for all our people.

At CFVI we will continue to establish new relationships and bring additional resources to our Territory, as we have for the past 28 years! We are proud of the road traveled to date and look forward to the journey ahead.

Building forward together for our beloved Virgin Islands,

Dee Baecher-Brown, President of CFVI
George H.T. Dudley, Chairman of the Board, CFVI

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