Jun 12, 2018

Our Most Important Purpose: Remain Open

Upper Elementary students write to their pen pals.
Upper Elementary students write to their pen pals.

It has been nine months since our Global Giving community first helped us re-open our doors. As we enter into the 2018 Hurricane season, our school is experiencing a touch of PTSD.

 “You want to tell everyone that you are doing well,” says a St. Croix Montessori parent and volunteer. “Because we have come so far. Because we are grateful for all the support received and we can see opportunity for regrowth. Yet the truth is, I am tired; my family is tired; we have been stretched thin for months. We aren’t ready – physically or emotionally - for another hurricane or even a tropical storm. Our community needs hope and strength now more than ever.”

 The Global Giving community understands that disaster recovery is long, hard work that continues for years after the media cycle has moved on. Your commitment ensures local nonprofits directly serve the communities we live in. 

 This June our commitment is simple: remain open.

On an island with 44% of children underprepared for kindergarten and 98% below proficiency levels grades K-12 (USVI KidsCount), our school has consistently risen to the top, with 85% of graduating students at or above grade level and engaging families in an established peace education. Our commitment to community has led St. Croix Montessori, the only certified-Montessori school on the island of St. Croix, to always provide low-income families scholarships even when we do not have the funds in reserve. We have been creative and flexible in the face of challenge by partnering with local nonprofits and organizations to deliver services, provide transportation to extracurricular activities, and meet the holistic needs of our families. St. Croix Montessori is focused on what matters most in life – our children.

 

June is the month our school bridges multiple timelines:

  • Our teachers create a sense of completion and celebration for the students;
  • Our school prepares to host students from across the Territory in our summer enrichment programs; and
  • We evaluate, reflect, and refine our goals for the 2018-19 academic year.

 

This June we also continue disaster recovery processes, each day anticipating the enormous relief of eventually receiving in-hand our Insurance, FEMA, or SBA settlement. St. Croix Montessori negotiates with over-booked contractors on how to complete critical repairs before the Summer program and the start of a new school year.

 We persist with optimism, even as our landlord increases rent by 120% and our plumbing line collapses. We plan for acquiring property so that our improvements invest in the long-term needs of our children.

 We hold onto the vision that it is possible to create a hurricane-resistant, sustainable-energy campus that supports children’s academic, social justice, physical, emotional, and spiritual growth from birth to high-school.

 We celebrate the opportunity to sponsor individuals for Montessori teacher certification, thus creating the island’s pathway for Master’s level education and retaining highly-qualified instructors.

 St. Croix Montessori remains committed to love the journey, wherever it may lead us.

Llama made of hurricane debris wins 1st place
Llama made of hurricane debris wins 1st place
A 4 year old practices phone-grams
A 4 year old practices phone-grams
Students host and cook a four course formal lunch
Students host and cook a four course formal lunch
Friendship for Life!
Friendship for Life!
May 24, 2018

Rebuilding through a Data Driven Community-Based Lens

Sharing resources at the Disaster Mitigation Expo
Sharing resources at the Disaster Mitigation Expo

This May's impact report marks 7 months since Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through the U.S. Virgin Islands last year in September. Since then, and because of your generous gifts to St. Croix Foundation's CARE Fund, the Foundation has served hundreds of people directly. And through our support of our sister nonprofits and our convening of federal, local, and grassroots relief efforts, we've provided countless resources that have reached thousands of people. Together, we've helped mothers provide for their infants, ensured the elderly and disabled have electricity and medical supplies, and conducted hundreds of referrals to ensure our residents received public assistance.

But perhaps most importantly, we've served as a data collector and repository of vast amounts of vital information that has helped us to bring together diverse groups to develop a cohesive, equitable, and sustainable rebuilding plan that is community based. Since our last report in March, the Foundation has been busy doing what we do best: supporting hurricane recovery and nurturing resiliency through a holistic, community-based lens. Here's what we've been working on and have accomplished in the past few months:

Leveraging the Household Needs Assessment Survey & the Nonprofit Capacity Survey

Initially, we knew that both the Foundation and our community would need data to inform immediate relief strategies, such as the distribution of supplies and to connect individual’s in crisis with organizations that may be able to help. To do so, we surveyed 1,046 individuals and households impacted by the disaster in some of the hardest hit areas on the island and processed 353 referrals for 273 individuals resulting in eligible residents becoming registered for public assistance. And because so many nonprofit organizations in our community fill critical service gaps, particularly in the wake of the hurricanes, we also conducted a Nonprofit Capacity Survey to determine how to support our nonprofits best so that they could get back to work.

Today, with the full results of both surveys completed, we are now able to leverage our data collection to inform the Foundation’s intermediate and long-term disaster recovery strategies as well as assist us in emergency preparedness planning for the future. Here are some of our findings, made possible through your contributions and the expertise of Dr. Jesse Klein of Florida State University and Dr. Mike Campbell, University of the West Indies, who analyzed the data.

Household Needs Assessment

  • 93% of people interviewed through St. Croix Foundation’s Resident Unmet Needs Study (1,050 respondents) said their homes were damaged and, of those, 80% had roof damage.
  • Of those residents who were surveyed through the Study, 72% had no homeowner’s insurance. Of those with insurance, only 27% felt their insurance coverage would be sufficient to cover damages. Only 25% of respondents with insurance reported they were able to afford the deductible.
  • In households in which a member had special medical needs, 26% indicated that they did not have access to the medicine or medical equipment needed after the storm.
  • 65% of residents reported in the Study that they had mold in their homes.
  • 34% of respondents to the Foundation’s Study had either reduced hours at work or had not yet returned to work as a result of the storm.

Nonprofit Capacity Assessment Study

  • Of the 60 nonprofit organizations St. Croix Foundation surveyed through our Nonprofit Assessments Study, 75% who had facility damage have had only temporary repairs or none at all.
  • 70% of the NGOs who responded to our Nonprofit Assessment reported an increase in demand for their services; and 64% are either operating on a limited basis or not at all.

Armed with data from our Household Needs Assessment and Nonprofit Capacity Survey, the Foundation was able to (1) assist St. Croix's Long Term Recovery Group forecast needs for housing, medical care, and financial support; (2) build a strategic grantmaking program through our CARE Fund to ensure our nonprofits will be able to get back to work serving the most vulnerable in our community.

Results for both Studies are available on request and be provided by contacting the Foundation at 340.773.9898.

Strengthening our Long-Term Recovery Group
In deepening our direct support of nonprofit and grassroots organizations to achieve a holistic, community-centric recovery, St. Croix Foundation is providing the St. Croix Long-Term Recovery Group with sound financial management through our Fiscal Sponsorship Services. At this time, the Foundation is waiving all financial management fees (typically 5% - 7.5%) and providing a discount for office space this coalition of over 30 civic, nonprofit, and faith-based organizations will be able to leverage more of their dollars to fill unmet needs, fundraise, apply for grants, and direct funds to meet critical needs, both immediate and emerging.

Already on the move, the Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG) held their first Youth Opportunity Fair on May 5th, introducing countless St. Croix youth to the LTRG and other organizations and programs that are currently available in the community in order to inspire, engage, and mobilize young people to be an integral part of our collective rebuilding efforts.

Even more recently, the Foundation (as a standing member of the LTRG) joined the 2018 Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation Expo on May 19th (seen at left) to assist in disseminating information resources on disaster recovery and preparedness.

Strategic Grantmaking through the CARE Grant
In February of 2018, St. Croix Foundation launched the CARE Grant to provide strategic grants to St. Croix based nonprofit organizations and charitable initiatives that offer programs and direct services targeting the most vulnerable and underserved populations affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The Foundation awarded over $275,000 in grants to 16 nonprofit organizations for projects that are (1) developing services and/or programs, (2) building capacity to allow expansion of existing services, and (3) reconstructing facilities necessary for conducting programs that directly relate to the needs of hurricane victims or recovery.

With 8 of 13 public schools on St. Croix having been condemned, all public schools students receive only 4 hours of instruction per day at school, the Foundation's grants focused particularly on youth programs that are filling critical gaps for families and our young people. Grants ranging from $7,500 to $50,000 were awarded to the following organizations: AZ Academy’s Summer STEM Project, Caribbean Center for Boys & Girls -Fueling the Youth, Choices Basketball Association -Summer Training Camp, Christiansted Lighthouse Mission, CMCArts, Inc., Cruzan Cowgirls Horse Rescue, Frederiksted Health Care, Men’s Coalition -Developing Youth Resiliency, Onyx Opera, Good Hope Country Day School -Summer Theater Camp, St. Croix Walls Project, USVI Soccer Association, VI Perinatal, and World Ocean School.

As an important component of our strategy, our CARE Grant has strict reporting requirements that allow the Foundation to support organizations throughout their project as well as continue to gather information on the conditions of our nonprofits as wells as our residents.

Sustainable Rebuilding: Moving Forward
Today, as we move into the intermediate and long-term phases of our hurricane recovery efforts we are focusing attention and resources on equity and sustainability. To do so, the St. Croix Foundation is even now developing a Solar-Supported Community Demonstration Program to begin with a "pilot" project that will serve as a replicable model of sustainable community development that will install affordable, energy cost reducing, solar-PV systems in community residences. The Foundation is pursuing this program urgently given that the 2017 direct strike of Hurricane Maria on St. Croix exposed the critical need that working communities, in particular, have for such a program. 

Now more than ever, your support of the CARE Fund is making an impact on the lives of those who call St. Croix home. We’re in this together, and in partnership with you, we will help our community recover, rebuild, and thrive.

Engaging our youth for holistic rebuilding!
Engaging our youth for holistic rebuilding!
Music in Motion, a CARE Grantee, is all smiles!
Music in Motion, a CARE Grantee, is all smiles!
Our Long Term Recovery Group gains momentum!
Our Long Term Recovery Group gains momentum!
Mar 22, 2018

Healing Through Holistic Learning Opportunities

Community builds Healthy Play Spaces!
Community builds Healthy Play Spaces!

Healing Through Learning Opportunities, Community Service & Creating Beautiful Outdoor Spaces for Our Children

With electricity fully restored at the end of December 2017, the St. Croix Montessori community has engaged in re-establishing a sense of normalcy for our families while balancing the long work of rebuilding and preparations for the 2018 Hurricane Season.

With the support of our GlobalGiving community, we were able to:

  • Offer Chess Club at no cost to families
  • Provide 23 families holiday presents
  • Send 25 students and 5 adults aboard the World Ocean School’s educational schooner, The Roseway
  • Host 3 parent educational events
  • Represent four tracks (administrative, elementary, primary, and assistants) at the AMI-USA refresher conference and course – the first time in the history of the school!
  • Design a student-inspired play space; and
  • Engage our community in building a play space that recycles downed trees, telephone poles, and tires, and provides a beautiful, inspiring place for our children for years to come. The first Play by Design project in the Caribbean!

While we are deep in the work of preparing for the 2018 Hurricane season and an increase in demand for access to safe, engaging learning spaces, we want to celebrate the moments that our GlobalGiving community has made possible.

Nautical Science Aboard The Roseway
St. Croix Montessori students can see The Roseway sailing into Gallows Bay from their classroom each winter. Our ability to attend this year’s educational program was directly possible by the GlobalGiving Community’s support. Thank you for providing us this enrichment opportunity!

The Roseway is the non-profit, World Ocean School’s educational schooner. We sailed four miles off the shore of St. Croix. Before sailing out, the children were giving the opportunity to assist the crew to raise the sails and at the same time, they were given a lesson on the names of the sails. It was a very windy day, so the crew only raised the jumbo sail. The children were divided into three teams. Each team had one student leader and two adult chaperones.  The teams toured the ship and rotated from one station to the next where they were given lessons on:

  • the history of the Roseway,
  • the special names of the parts of the ship (bow, stern, port, and starboard),
  • the special names of certain areas on the ship (the saloon, the helm, the  galley and the head),
  • simple machines (pulleys, lever, and axle),
  • the names of the sails (peak, throat halyard, and jumbo) and
  • tying knots (figure eight, bowline, square knot and barrel).

At the end of the day, the children were given the opportunity to see how the Roseway crew communicated to lower the sails. At a value of $5,000, we were able to support this nonprofit experience at no cost to our families. The teambuilding experience was incredible for parents and students!

Community Comes Together To Build A Healthy Space
The destruction of our trees was a visible reminder of the trauma experienced in September. While we have so much to rebuild on our island, we knew the importance of creating something beautiful and engaging for our families and students. Thus, the Building Healthy Spaces project was born.

We went into the project hoping to replace our DIY playground with a few slides, but ended up being the first school in the Caribbean to be selected by Play by Design! Over 4 months, our families and students worked with the experienced playground designers and engineers to take our dreams and make them a reality, while also honoring our natural environment and Crucian beauty.

Children created pictures of their dream playground. We interviewed parents, alumni, and teachers for their thoughts. Play by Design created blueprints for a playground that would serve our diverse children from ages 2 ½ to 12 – and provided the expertise of ensuring a safe outdoor play space.

Over 100 volunteers came together and in 5 days they built from hand an entire playground.

Our doubts at focusing on a playground while there are still so many other areas to build were melted away. Parents shared that for the first time since September, they enjoyed building! They had the opportunity to learn about their community members and felt inspired and rejuvenated. One father commented that seeing his children and helping out with other families was the highlight of his year.

For our students, they were excited to assist in the construction preparations and supporting the volunteers on campus. From the youngest to the eldest, students joined together to bake food for volunteers, create signs for campus, assisted in putting up construction fencing and tape, helped feed volunteers and make sure we stayed hydrated, and they created celebratory songs and ribbons for the opening night. Elementary students assisted our youngest students by walking them to class each morning and ensuring everyone stayed in the “student-safe” zones.

An enormous amount of support came from La Roche College’s Ministry of Service students and Howard University students. We discovered some Montessori alumni among the college students! They met with our early childhood teachers and students, and shared their experiences and impressions of our island.

Despite knowing we have much construction ahead, our community has been inspired.

Thank you for joining us on our journey to build a resilient, thriving community dedicated to growing children’s emotional, social, and academic skills for life!

Howard University helps to build our playground.
Howard University helps to build our playground.
LaRoche College Ministry of Service digs-in!
LaRoche College Ministry of Service digs-in!
Learning Aboard the Roseway Schooner
Learning Aboard the Roseway Schooner
Primary (preK-K) students teach parents Montessori
Primary (preK-K) students teach parents Montessori
 
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