Jul 1, 2021

St. Croix LTRG: Spirit & Resilience!

A New Roof Becomes a Reality!
A New Roof Becomes a Reality!

The spirit and resiliency of a people are most strongly on display in the aftermath of a disaster—especially almost four years beyond. As we continue to recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the unity of our community continues to be vital towards the achievement of a clear and concerted vision of a recovered and resilient St. Croix, USVI.

The St. Croix Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) is a cooperative body that is made up of representatives from faith-based, non-profit, government, business, and other organizations working within St. Croix to assist individuals and families as they recover from Hurricane Maria.

The goal of the LTRG is to unite recovery resources with community needs in order to ensure that even the most vulnerable in the community recover from the disaster.  The LTRG officially formed under the fiscal sponsorship of the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development in 2015. Under the guidance of FEMA and the American Red Cross, members formed committees to carry out the work of the organization.

Meeting the Mandate
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us into changing how we continued to recover. We lost the opportunity to bring in volunteer teams to rebuild homes. Government programs focused on recovery came to halt as we weathered the pandemic storm. Despite these challenges, we accomplished so much in 2020 with new partnerships, stronger community engagement, capacity strengthening in technological communication, increased coordination with government agencies, and a renewed commitment from our member organizations to strive for a fully recovered island—and an island that will be prepared for the next disaster.

We have begun the process of formally folding the work of the LTRG into a new STX COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disaster) model which will ultimately be housed under the territory-wide VI VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster). As part of this process we are engaged in a formal membership campaign, asset-mapping of our 150+ member organizations to better understand where resources are located throughout the island and have occupied a seat at the Virgin Islands Emergency Management Council table, trained members to staff Points of Distribution Centers in times of crisis, offered volunteers to work emergency shelters, and carried out some initial discussions on community-based resiliency hubs that will be housed under the COAD. These hubs would allow for communities to survive in the immediate days following a disaster while we await additional outside relief—all in conjunction with the COADs on our sister islands.

Throughout all of this, we have not forgotten those in our community who are not back to a “new normal” from the storms of 2017. We still see the suffering of those without homes or a roof on their home almost four years after the storms. And we continue to do our best to bring relief to our community through our Disaster Case Managers and our Unmet Needs Roundtable. In addition, we are vocal advocates demanding that federally funded relief programs be expedited to operate at a much more efficient level. The recovery is not over! COVD-19 may have altered HOW we can help, but it will not stop us from helping all those that we can.

We are grateful for the support of the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development through their fiscal sponsorship and to our wonderful partners at GlobalGiving and Island Spirit Fund for their continued financial support.

With gratitude for allowing us to serve the St. Croix community and our sister islands, the staff of the St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group:

Jay Rollins, Executive Director for National & Regional Relationships
Delia Richardson, Executive Director for Community Engagement
Christina Joseph, Executive Assistant
Rosalie Javois, VISTA

DISASTER CASE MANAGEMENT and UNMET NEEDS
During this reporting period, our DCMs continued to serve a total of 54 clients.

  • DCM program activity increased as the territory returned to a degree of normalcy after the extended COVID shutdown. Clients were supported by DCMs during the shutdown through frequent communication and sporadic home visits when circumstances warranted.  Many clients who were awaiting the Envision Tomorrow Program began receiving duplication of benefits notices indicating FEMA funds requiring repayment before they could move into the reconstruction/repair phase of the program. Of course, many did not have the resources necessary to repay, especially significant amounts.  DCMs assisted in multiple ways, including brainstorming with clients regarding potential lenders or grant availability, support with appealing their cases with additional evidence substantiating how money was spent, and seeking alternate avenues for home repair.  This new development was challenging for clients and created higher levels of anxiety. Most expressed a collective frustration about the pace of Envision Tomorrow as they continue to endure living in unstable conditions especially during heavy rainfall. Most do not have alternate living space and are trying to make their current living situation as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately, many of these clients are elderly and some are disabled.  And the transition of the Virgin Islands into hurricane season has not helped. To date, there is no indication or notification as to the actual start of construction of homes for clients in the program.
  • DCM staff began to initiate more direct communication with the management of the Envision Tomorrow Program to monitor client progress through the program more closely. DCMs were able to meet with Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) director and his Residential Disaster Recovery Management team to acquire more definitive information regarding potential repair timelines, obstacles as well as offer assistance and collaboration with the agency to help move the process along.
  • DCM had two clients that were undergoing the completion of repairs to their home. One client saw the repair of the entire home’s electrical system, replacement of most windows and some structural repair while the other client received a full kitchen refurbishment.
  • An additional 6 clients were submitted to Unmet Needs Roundtable for repair funding during this period and subsequently, 4 clients were approved totaling $32,838.88, 1 was denied and 1 is currently pending information from the contractor regarding potential structural issues that may require more funding.  Work on two of the recently approved clients’ home repairs has started.
  • DCM program was able to conduct debris removal from the client’s property to prepare for reconstruction to begin and was also able to fund roof tarp installation for another client—a total of $5,120.
  • Additionally, 2 other clients were able to get the repair to their damaged home started with insurance money received from hurricane Maria damage.   Although the money awarded was inadequate to completely cover the cost of repair, they lost confidence in the ability of the Envision Tomorrow Program to get underway as they have been paying rent for the past 4 years in anticipation of the additional assistance to bring their home to completion. Both DCMs have worked with clients and contractors to determine realistic repairs given the amount they have that will make the home reasonably inhabitable. They expressed exhaustion waiting on the program for the past 2 years and seeing no evidence of progress for any applicants.
  • DCM also worked with 3 clients with the application process to the USDA home repair grant program. Clients are still going through the application process and approval is pending. 

CONCLUSION
Although very delayed, DCMs continue to work with resident populations in getting their recovery needs met and support the implementation of territorial programs designed to assist home rebuilding as well as any other adjunctive services they may need.  Currently, our greatest allies in achieving these goals have been the Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) roofing program, STX/LTRG Unmet Needs Roundtable, the USDA & Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.  We look forward to continued partnership with the Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority and its Envision Tomorrow Program to witness the restoration of homes that are safe, sanitary, secure, and comfortable for program enrollees. 

METRICS: CLIENT CASE LOAD TOTAL: REPORTING PERIOD: March 5 – June 25, 2021

  • Total Clients Served: 54
  • Number of cases submitted to Unmet Needs Roundtable For Review: 6
  • Number of cases approved by Unmet Needs Roundtable: 4
  • Total enrolled in the Envision Tomorrow Program: 40
  • New Enrollments during reporting period: 1
  • Total Cases Closed: 4
Finally! A new kitchen, thanks to the LTRG and GG!
Finally! A new kitchen, thanks to the LTRG and GG!
A mountain of debris removed for health & safety.
A mountain of debris removed for health & safety.
Jun 25, 2021

Holding Space for Community through Civic Action

Virtual Town Halls Address Environmental Issues!
Virtual Town Halls Address Environmental Issues!

February 27 – June 25, 2021

In our last quarterly report, we told you about St. Croix Foundation’s work through the Nonprofit Consortium to create pathways toward greater engagement in the civic sector. In the several months since, and just as the 2021 Hurricane Season began and the world’s attention on climate focuses, the Nonprofit Consortium’s values of equity, collaboration, and community have never been more critical.

As we approach the Nonprofit Consortium’s 5th Anniversary this August 2021, St. Croix Foundation’s pledge to hold space for community action, to keep sacred the civic sector, and to empower local nonprofits has been put to the test and the importance of collective voice proven. In this last quarter alone, the Nonprofit Consortium has convened 19 times, with all four sectors represented: arts and culture, health and human welfare, youth and education, and the natural and built environs. In all, 20+ organizations sat at the table to continue vital case development while conducting community organization and advocacy around environmental justice.

The stakes have never been higher for our People. With no federal voting power, the voices of our civic organizations offer a voice and vision that encompasses sustainable, equitable systems--- of food, energy, education, and economics. To our family at GlobalGiving, we extend our deepest appreciation for sharing our vision!

Nonprofit Consortium Hosts Town Halls Around Environmental Justice
While many might not be able to pick St. Croix out on a world map, the U.S. Virgin Islands certainly has national relevance. In addition to being the only predominantly black jurisdiction (under the U.S. Flag) without any federal voting rights, this 84 square mile island was once home to the largest oil refinery in the world, based on throughput. It also has the distinction of enduring one of the largest (and quietest) oil spills in American history, to the tune of 43 million gallons that slowly leaked into the island’s largest freshwater aquifer. Because of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ vulnerability relative to climate change, striking a balance between environmental justice and sustainable development was a top priority to the Nonprofit Consortium from its inception. In fact, we began exploring new models of sustainability and excavating our past exploitive environmental injustices at our Environmental Forum in 2019.

In February of 2021, the 50-year-old refinery, which had shuttered in 2012, reopened under new ownership and within the first two months of operation, two chemical exigences occurred that rained oil onto people’s homes, cars, and into their cisterns (rain catchment systems located under most homes which serve as the primary water source for island residents). Having witnessed residents being left breathless for months from highly noxious gases wafting through downwind neighborhoods after the restart, St. Croix Foundation and members of the Nonprofit Consortium stepped forward. With little to no acknowledgment from the private and public sector and in the face of peoples’ pleas for help, we recognized that philanthropy had a moral imperative to lead courageously.

Empowering Community with Data and Resources
On Thursday, May 13th at 6pm St. Croix Foundation and Nonprofit Consortium Members from the Environmental Sectors - St. Croix Environmental Association, Crucian Heritage And Nature Tourism CHANT, & Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition - hosted its first Engage VI Environmental Virtual Town Hall to discuss recent environmental and health impacts from Limetree Bay Refinery.

Invitations were extended to Limetree Bay Terminals, LLC, US Environmental Protection Agency, the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the Virgin Islands Department of Health, the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, and the Legislature to provide information on EPA regulations, and individual agency scope and responsibility relative to health and safety. While refinery representatives were not present, legal experts and both local and federal agency heads confirmed and spoke at the Town Hall. The chat was full of questions about the scope of damages and their impact on individual and environmental health. In total, the NPC’s First Town Hall in this three-part series hosted over 300 participants in the live session, 860 views of the Town Hall recording, and nearly 200 engagements, amplifications, and reactions.

The following day, the EPA announced that the refinery would close for 60 days, citing an imminent health threat, invoking powers under the Clean Air Act which had only exercised eleven times before.

As shared in prior reports to our GlobalGiving family, one of the Nonprofit Consortium’s outcomes has been the development of an official website, EngageVI.org., which now houses vital community resources, including emergency contacts for community health reporting.

A live recording of the first Virtual Town Hall can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6u52T08p8FU

Making Space for Marginalized Voices
One month later, on June 10, St. Croix Environmental Association, C.H.A.N.T., the Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition and St. Croix Foundation hosted the second Virtual Town Hall, entitled, “Heavy Industry and the Food We Eat: Impacts on Agriculture and Fishers on St. Croix.”

This special Town Hall included speakers Dr. David Bond, of Bennington College & Mr. Olasee Davis, from the University of the Virgin Islands who provided a history of heavy industry on St. Croix and (ask Jonathan if he can summarize this in a compelling way with NPC at the center).

Once again, pre-prepared questions were addressed to the Department of Agriculture and the 80+ attendees  asked various questions, including:

  • Why was the island of St. Croix, as agricultural land, chosen to be a place to create such heavy environmental polluting and destructive industries?
  • How can we qualify for Superfund status to achieve levels of remediation?
  • I just purchased well water, with the comment generated today should I be concerned about possible hidden health concerns from possible contamination, is well contamination St. Croix wide?

With nearly 1000 views and over 113 engagements, the convening was well-received:

  • “Thank you all for organizing and bringing us together.”
  • “Thank you to all the presenters and to those who organized this forum to provide information. I am looking forward to hearing of a solution to this health issue.”

Creating a Sustainable Vision
The third and final session of the three-part Engage VI Environmental Town Hall series is scheduled for July 15, 2021. The discussion will center around articulating a community vision for a prosperous and sustainable future given the external environments, community values, health, all of the priorities represented by the Nonprofit Consortium’s four sectors. Making this convening that much more crucial was the announcement on June 21, 2021 that due to financial difficulties, the refinery may close operations permanently in September 2021. This development has been at the center of our dialogue around reimagining a future independent of heavy industry. We have also considered how dramatically this scenario mirrors the economic fallout of the initial closure of the refinery in 2012. What this demands of our community and, our sector, is a progressive and justice-focused reimaging that balances economic promise and environmental stewardship. As a result, the prospective theme of the final session is Reimagining A Sustainable Future: Balancing Economic Promise & Environmental Stewardship.

Holding the Vision
The work described here didn’t begin in response to the oil refinery nor Hurricanes Maria and Irma or even Covid-19. It began as a result of a deep understanding of what resilience in isolated communities can look like. Framed by the realities of political status, climate change, economics, geography, and rooted deeply in cultural heritage, the Nonprofit Consortium is coalescing civic power, empowering the disenfranchised, and giving Voice to the vulnerable. Our GlobalGiving family has made it all possible. THANK YOU!

Sharing health resources at the environ. town hall
Sharing health resources at the environ. town hall
The Foundation and NPC partners collaborate!
The Foundation and NPC partners collaborate!
Jun 3, 2021

Taking Pilot Programs to the Systems Level!

The Abundance of New Crops with Resilience Grants!
The Abundance of New Crops with Resilience Grants!

As communities throughout the Caribbean and the U.S. prepare for the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season, which is expected to be more active than “normal,” philanthropy’s work around building resilience is put to the test. For the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the smallest “kid on the block” in the equity model, the stakes are incredibly high.

At St. Croix Foundation, as we reflect back on the process of recovery since the 2017 Hurricanes, we are pleased to report that our work in disaster response has gone far beyond immediate recovery. Our approach as a place-based community foundation, the partnerships we developed, and the priorities we focused on resulted in multi-layered pilot programs that are no longer experiments in resilience-building but fully operational systems that bypass inequitable, inaccessible paradigms within our community and within the field of philanthropy itself.

Today, just days after the opening of the hurricane season, we extend our deepest appreciation to our GlobalGiving family and our circle of funders and advocates. Because, with your support, we have expanded innovative pilots and turned them into new scalable models of resiliency and self-sufficiency.

Ready to Serve: Capacity Building in Real-time for Food Security
St. Croix Foundation’s focus on resilience is grounded in our commitment to encourage and empower our community to access resources specific to their needs. By doing so, we build new systems that simultaneously strengthen the one and the whole. Case in point: our Farm Tienda Small Business Development and Resilience Initiative! What began as an initiative to get small businesses back online after Hurricanes Irma and Maria has now become a sustainable network of food sovereignty at the business and community level.

As described in our last quarterly report, all seven Farm Tiendas are now operational and continue to serve as resilience hubs throughout Covid-19. With Farm Tiendas located strategically across the island and outfitted with solar panels, water buffalos (and Wi-Fi!), we are pleased to report our farmers are already noting the value of the Tiendas in the event of a crisis to provide for residents and secure food:

  • We are ready to serve at a heartbeat’s notice."
  • We use the unit for our point of sales during the present pandemic control. If we face that challenge again, we are prepared to do so. This unit gave us the security we needed during a critical time in our operation.

Additionally:

  • 4 out of 7 farmers said the Tienda has helped generate more or new business by 50%.
  • Water buffalos are helping to address water shortages for the farms, providing extra water for crop production and fresh water for washing produce

Ongoing Systems Building through Agricultural Micro Grants
At the Foundation, we often speak about strategic grantmaking. The innovation and relevance of granting Tiendas to small business farmers to strengthen economic and food systems is, of course, part of it! But it’s also about our commitment to support our grantees, who we call partners, beyond the initial grant award.

To allow our farmers the flexibility necessary to enhance their infrastructure, in mid-January, St. Croix Foundation, in partnership with Tides Foundation, awarded each farmer a $1000 mini-grant – a total of $7,000.  Funds will support new shelving units, stainless steel tables, point-of-sale systems like cash registers, and vital infrastructure, such as a new water pump to feed additional crop rotation.

New Breed Farm, located on the isolated southern part of the island and serving St. Croix residents island-wide through wholesaling produce to local grocery stores, purchased a new water pump with their Micro-Grant to get their well back online. As a significant resource for their farm, the additional water source has already allowed for expanded crop rotation in cucumbers (seen at right) and melons.

From Programs to Systems: VISTA Becomes a Permanent Program at St. Croix Foundation
In 2018, St. Croix Foundation conducted our Nonprofit Disaster Recovery and Capacity Assessment, finding that most nonprofits (69.6%) reported increased demand for program services, yet 72.8% were still operating on a limited basis or not at all. Nonprofits such as the Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls, who were serving upwards of 300youth a day, were vital to our community’s recovery. As such, the Foundation quickly identified AmeriCorps VISTA as a resource to offer much-needed staffing and capacity support to organizations that were serving our most vulnerable. Established in 1964, AmeriCorps VISTA’s (Volunteers In Service To America) purpose is to strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based direct national and community service. VISTA has and continues to provide our nonprofit participants with professional expertise from various backgrounds such as engineering, international studies, and education.

After approximately 400 staff hours of coordination and development of our application, the Foundation was approved for a 15-member VISTA Team to come to St. Croix. And, thanks to GlobalGiving, who provided a generous grant to support VISTA housing stipends, to date 6 VISTAs are currently serving the St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group, the Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls, the Virgin Islands Good Food Coalition, and St. Croix Foundation. Together, our VISTAs have put in over 14,000 hours, building capacity through grants research and writing, community partnership outreach, and the development of comprehensive marketing strategies.

This cohort represents the first VISTA team in the Territory in over 20 years, when the Foundation last hosted VISTAs. These outcomes alone make the VISTA Program a success. But we are incredibly happy to report that St. Croix Foundation has just been invited to become a permanent intermediary site for the AmeriCorps VISTA Program!

Despite challenges surrounding Covid-19, which severely affected recruitment, SCF increased check-ins with VISTA members and supervisors, assuring their safety was the top priority. And we used the time to connect with supervisors and offer any revisions to Volunteer Assignment Descriptions. In addition, SCF reviewed resumes and made recommendations to supervisors for candidates that align with the support needed. With this support, 2 VISTAs reenrolled in the program, 3 local VISTA joined, and one brave non-local VISTA safely relocated to St. Croix and secured housing to serve locally during her term. VISTA members are also sharing the program benefits, and a number of interested applicants have reached out around vacant positions. Additionally, our partner organizations are sharing the benefits VISTA support. As a result, three new nonprofits have requested to join the St. Croix AmeriCorps Team. The Foundation has also met with two existing organizations to develop a recruitment and selection strategy over the next two months, aiming to add a total of 7 new VISTAs over the next four months.

Today, what began as a critical rebuilding program, has become a new, healthy system of nonprofit supports for sustainable, community-based capacity building.

From Pilots to Comprehensive Systems in Sustainable Energy
As we reported back in February, St. Croix Foundation just solarized its second community center at Flambouyant Gardens, adding 6000KW of sustainable power to the island of St. Croix! In times of disaster, Flambouyant Gardens, home to 56 senior citizens, will serve as a resilience hub for residents and families to charge electronic devices and use an internet connection to communicate with loved ones. To date, the center has reported $500 in savings and the Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls, our first center to be solarized, another $2500 in energy savings.

With resilience hubs located in some of the most vulnerable and isolated parts of the island (including our Farm Tiendas reported on above), the Foundation is now focusing on fortifying its own energy infrastructure with the help of GlobalGiving. In the aftermath of the 2017 hurricanes, the Foundation’s early commitment to burying electrical lines and the central downtown location of the Foundation’s headquarters resulted in the Foundation serving as a critical resilience hub. Providing office space and housing nonprofits to key recovery personnel from FEMA and local government agencies. As such, the Foundation has committed to serving as a hub again, increasing our energy capacity by installing additional panels and energy storage.

As our sustainability network grows, the Foundation is also mindful of the importance of ongoing monitoring and support to document successes and challenges to ensure systems evolve for greater impact. Conditions around COVID-19 and early evaluations of the first cohort of students in the Workforce Development component of our solar initiative indicate that longer-term support for students and community centers is a relevant and critical need.

Although COVID-19 has kept us at a distance, the Foundation took time to build a deeper relationship with our students and their employers. By July 2020, all students had received employment in the solar industry, and it was important for the Foundation to continue providing support for their transition into the career field. Thanks to a generous award from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the Foundation will continue to monitor what is now a new system of sustainable energy on the island of St. Croix. Over the course of the next year, the foundation will be (1) conducting data collection on the community center model to assess monthly energy savings for the centers, monitor the system for any error messages, and report on how energy savings will be used; (2) providing workforce retention support and career development for the first cohort of students through workshops, one-on-one professional development and Lunch and Learn events with participants; and (3) dedicating to direct project oversight to document the mode, collect and report data and coordinate support for participants and centers.

We truly couldn’t be more excited about the success of this comprehensive initiative and thank GlobalGiving, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, VI Department of Labor Workforce Development Board and JPB Foundation.  Without you, it wouldn’t be possible!

The Heart and Soul of Philanthropy
When we talk about place-based philanthropy’s role in creating new, healthy systems, St. Croix Foundation’s philosophy and multi-pronged approach is proven: catalyze holistic community development that builds capacity in nonprofits, leverages cross-sector collaboration, and directs resources at the intersections of complex social-economic challenges facing marginalized communities. Community is the heart and soul of philanthropy --- and by beginning with community, together we build a Prosperity Portfolio that grows into systems that empower the very people who drive change in the most effective way.

Our Local Senior Center Receives Full Solar System
Our Local Senior Center Receives Full Solar System
Farm Tiendas: Food Security Systems During Covid!
Farm Tiendas: Food Security Systems During Covid!
Farm Tiendas Serve as Neighborhood Hubs
Farm Tiendas Serve as Neighborhood Hubs
 
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