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Monday, July 15, 2024
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Non-Profit Raises Funds for Youths Island-Wide

Three friends, Justin Smith, Eric Robinson, and Addison Griffin, started the Lion Haven after-school program in 2021. (Photo courtesy Justin Smith)

Lion Haven has been around for three years, and in that short time, the non-profit organization has engaged dozens of young people, from ages 6 to 18, from across the island of St. Croix with after-school activities. The organization will host the St. Croix Wine Walk on Saturday to raise funds for the program.

Lion Haven was started in 2021 by Justin Smith, crisis counselor Addison Griffin, and Eric Robinson, a jujitsu coach. They wanted to create a non-profit with features like the YMCA, including a variety of after-school programs. Griffin and Robinson are still involved with Lion Haven.

Smith, now the principal officer and executive director, played college and professional football – including the Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – before moving to St. Croix. He then worked at Island Therapy and taught middle and high school classes for five years at AZ Academy. During that time, he learned about the need for after-school activities and life-skills education, especially for at-risk youth.

“Our goal was to build a centralized YMCA community center – a safe place to become the best version of themselves,” Smith told the Source.

The first 12-week program included jujitsu, cross-fit training, tutoring, therapy, and snacks. Since then, the center has held pottery, cooking, and dancing classes and regular after-school tutoring sessions. Additionally, 340 Cross Fit and Beeston Hill Health Club have held jujitsu classes for boys and girls, and Leatherback Brewery has football games once a week.

Administrators and Lion Haven participants after a jujitsu class at 340 Cross Fit. (Photo courtesy Justin Smith)

After Smith met Sie Lloyd at the Mon Bijou Community Center, a partnership was formed and Lion Haven found a home – for now – and most of the activities are held there.

While running the program is a full-time job, Smith is also writing grants with the goal of finding a permanent location. He hopes to continue a woman’s self-defense class and a summer camp with the V.I. equestrienne

Lion Haven is supported by the business community, including the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, Cane Bay Partners, and Leatherback Brewing, who host the annual point-one-mile fun run.

The St. George Village Botanical Gardens is hosting the Wine Walk with support from Bellows International and Prestige Wine Group. There will be five pairing stations with food and wines to be tasted at each and the “little master chefs” of Lion Haven will sponsor one of the stations.

The name of the organization, Lion Haven has meaning: Smith said the group is providing a safe place – a haven – for strong young people – lions.

“It’s a safe place for young people who don’t know what power they have,” he said.

For more information, visit Facebook or www.lionhaven.org.






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