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The Island Spirit Fund

by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network
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The Island Spirit Fund
The Island Spirit Fund
The Island Spirit Fund
Protectores de Cuencas grows 100+ species of trees
Protectores de Cuencas grows 100+ species of trees

In the two years since the launch of the Island Spirit Fund, we’ve seen both major progress and some setbacks. Our nonprofit partners in disaster-affected places in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the U.S. mainland are working hard day-in and day-out to bring normalcy. They have completed 179,766 hours of volunteer and paid work, served 9,987 clients, constructed or repaired 254 homes, and planted 1,581 trees, and held 180 community events.

In some ways, the recovery is well underway, though in other ways, it’s still just beginning. With this in mind, we’ve partnered with both new organizations and some familiar groups for next year.

Today we’re excited to introduce two new partners of the Island Spirit Fund:

  • Protectores de Cuencas is restoring protected forests in Puerto Rico that have been degraded by wildfires and hurricanes. They work to maintain the forest and control invasive species. They are collecting seeds today, with the goal of planting more than 65,000 trees and 100 unique tree species to keep up the diversity of the forest tomorrow.
  • Bayou City Waterkeeper is conducting wetland analysis near Houston, TX and across the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Harvey proved these areas are vulnerable to flooding, so they are engaging city, county, and federal decision-makers in the push for natural solutions, like oyster sea walls, to storm surge.

Thanks to Cruzan Rum’s ongoing commitment to the Island Spirit Fund, we can ensure steady support for these nonprofits and other continuing partners, even as COVID-19 creates uncertainty. We’re grateful for this long-term partnership!

CFVI continues as an Island Spirit Fund partner
CFVI continues as an Island Spirit Fund partner
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Solar street light installation by La Marana
Solar street light installation by La Marana

Our partners are working in communities that know challenges. They have adjusted to life after hurricanes and other natural disasters and now they must adapt again to social distance for the safety of all.

Our nonprofit partners continue to work remotely on projects where they can, and they are recognizing new needs in light of COVID-19. Sofía Unanue, Executive Director of La Maraña in Puerto Rico, says that while her team is “doing our best to stay safe through a pandemic, we continue to uncover the deep-rooted interdisciplinary vulnerabilities we face as a society.”

All along, these organizations have been focused on building resiliency in their communities, which is needed now perhaps more than ever. They have made major strides to improve livelihoods, housing, and food security for impacted communities:

  • With support from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI), the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park planted 100 tree seedlings on St. John. A fruit tree project on St. Thomas concluded with more than 500 native trees distributed throughout the island. Meanwhile, another 6,000 trees are being grown in a new nursery on St. Croix.
  • Another group removed 85 cubic yards of marine and shoreline hurricane debris on St. John with funding from CFVI.
  • An urban garden workforce program launched earlier this year on St. Croix for 20 garden members with CFVI’s help.
  • St. John’s Long Term Recovery Group has completed rebuilds and repairs for 31 homes to date.

New recovery and resiliency work is being planned for postponed timelines. SEED SPOT is planning to host 10 workshops with CFVI for entrepreneurs on St. Thomas when it is safe to do so. Inevitably, home reconstruction has been paused in many places, especially as volunteer groups have been unable to travel. La Maraña will finish construction on an abandoned school in northeast Puerto Rico when social distancing is no longer required.

Sofía shares what gives her team at La Maraña inspiration right now. “We are staying motivated during this time by thinking about [our] future and the transition we hope to carry out.”

Seed collecting oroject, funded by CFV
Seed collecting oroject, funded by CFV
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La Marana leads participatory design process in PR
La Marana leads participatory design process in PR

As we begin a new year, it’s clear that our partners in communities recovering from storms accomplished incredible feats in the past 12 months and have hopeful plans for the future.

Last year, St. Croix Long-Term Recovery Group conducted seven workshops to teach 200 people how to be their own first responder in times of disaster. Attendees really appreciated the workshop, with one attendee providing feedback that said, “More people need this information and presentation. You spoke with passion, engaged the audience, cared about the people and used very practical examples.” The group is looking to offer additional training, and based on feedback, bring specialized programs to youth.

Meanwhile on St. John, groups came together to provide emergency re-tarping for homes with roofs that still aren’t repaired. This helped relieve the anxiety of some of the seniors in the community, but they were not able to reach all of the homes that needed it. Community Foundation for the Virgin Islands (CFVI) funded the removal of 85 cubic yards of marine and shoreline hurricane debris and is beginning a project to turn vegetative debris into wood chips for landscaping and composting.

On St. Thomas, CFVI is supporting 10 entrepreneur workshops run by an organization called SEED SPOT. They’ve also celebrated the success of two tree planting projects and a bottle and can recycling project that are all underway.

In Puerto Rico, La Maraña has been working hard to bring about the changes that communities wish to see with participatory design processes. After enduring nine months in darkness when electricity was cut off after the storms, youth leaders in the central municipality of Comerío are kicking off a solar energy project. Meanwhile, another community in Carolina, east of San Juan, is coming together to transform an abandoned school into a hub for learning, entrepreneurship, and sustainable agriculture.

The Island Spirit Fund also continues to help other communities in their recovery journeys, including communities around Florida’s Panama City still recovering from Hurricane Michael. Doorways of NWFL has rebuilt more than 40 homes, but there are many more to go. There are signs of progress however: the Community Recovery Center is being transitioned to a Community Resource Center.

Across all these communities, there’s a recognition of the need for fundamental change. In summing up what drives their commitment to progress, St. Croix Long-Term Recovery Group referenced a quote from bestselling author John C. Maxwell, "We cannot become what we need by remaining what we are."

By contributing to the Island Spirit Fund, you’re supporting these recovering communities as they seek resilience and full recovery. Thank you for taking part!

St. John-LTRG assisted in getting homes retarped
St. John-LTRG assisted in getting homes retarped
Blue tarps show La Marana the work still needed
Blue tarps show La Marana the work still needed
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St. Thomas Recovery Team celebrates a new home
St. Thomas Recovery Team celebrates a new home

Our Island Spirit Fund partners have been hard at work! In the first half of this year, there were more than 39,496 labor and volunteer hours completed, 742 clients served, 87 homes or jobs completed, 75 community events held, and 414 trees planted.

Here’s what some of their hard work looks like:

  • Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands' partner We Grow Fund used grant funds to distributed trees to farmers on St. Thomas as part of a native tree restoration project. Thirty farmers received fruit trees to replace some of the thousands that were destroyed by hurricanes Maria and Irma. The trees will contribute to the farmers’ livelihoods and provide yummy fruit for the island with varieties including mango, soursop, avocado, guava, caimito, egg fruit, starfruit, dwarf coconut, lime, lemon, and three varieties of apple!
  • The St. Thomas Recovery Team has celebrated the completion of several home rebuild projects, complete with donated furniture and new home gardens for some of the families. In the image above, you can see the final ceremonial nail hammered into a rebuilt home by a new homeowner. These ceremonies are full of emotion: joy, relief, gratitude, and praise. The Island Spirit Fund has provided valuable funding for construction materials.

Our partners express that they often feel that their communities are isolated and their voices unheard. But through community and your support, they’re seeing lives throughout the islands are being impacted for the better and people’s wellbeing stabilized. In the words of Jay Rollins from the St. Croix Foundation for Community Development, “We cannot express our gratitude enough and hope you will continue to stand with us in solidarity to build resilience!”

STRT celebrates a roof with a view
STRT celebrates a roof with a view
CFVI partner distributes fruit trees
CFVI partner distributes fruit trees
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Photo by Donna Callejon
Photo by Donna Callejon

We’re feeling inspired by the work communities are achieving together in the US Virgin Islands. Each of these three beautiful islands is slowly recovering, physically and emotionally.

Here are some of the stories of hope coming from St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas:

  • St. Croix Long-Term Recovery Group was able to hire a new Disaster Case Manager. Each manager is assigned up to 80 cases and they work to ensure every client is connected to resources. Unlike in other programs, Disaster Case Managers provide assistance until their client is completely recovered and has a sustainable action plan to thrive post-recovery.
  • St. John Long-Term Recovery Group has built 12 homes. They have 15 more homes currently under construction and 53 homes still in need of assistance. “Together we can make these houses a home again,” says Jon Eichner, Director of Operations.
  • Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) is investing in the ecological resilience of the islands. They are funding the distribution of native fruit trees to farmers on St. Thomas, native plant restoration in National Park areas on St. John, commercial composting on St. John, and a new Seed Stewards team that will to reestablish the urban tree canopy on St. Croix.
  • All Hands and Hearts wrapped up its work on St. Thomas earlier this year after one and a half years of support. They celebrated their successes—6,000 people helped and 930 jobs completed—by hosting a community ballgame in a park that they had revitalized.
  • St. Thomas Recovery Team has helped families with middle and high school students learn together about local hazard risks and investigate opportunities for resilience. They’ve also hosted several teams of skilled volunteers to help with their ongoing home rebuilding efforts.

The work is far from over. On St. Thomas alone, there are more than 5,000 people waiting to have a case worker assigned to help them navigate the process of rebuilding their homes and livelihoods, to access counseling or job training, and to work as their advocates with public and private insurance and rebuilding agencies.

Thank you for your support of long-term recovery. We will continue to bring you stories of resilience and strength from these islands.

St. Croix LTRG celebrates a completed home
St. Croix LTRG celebrates a completed home
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