The Island Spirit Fund

by GlobalGiving
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The Island Spirit Fund
The Island Spirit Fund
The Island Spirit Fund
View from St. John Community Foundation home site
View from St. John Community Foundation home site

Our thoughts are once again with Texas and our nonprofit partners like Bayou City Waterkeeper in Houston, TX. The area is recovering from winter storms that left many residents without power and water for days. But Texas’ water problems started long before the winter storm.

“A denial of climate change means no real planning has been done to prepare infrastructure to meet increasingly extreme weather, from hurricanes like Harvey to the current freeze—but also more ordinary heavy rain events that our region faces,” said Kristen Schlemmer, legal director at Bayou City Waterkeeper.

Over in Florida, the Federal Disaster Case Management Program provided by FEMA has ended for survivors of Hurricane Michael. The work is not over, so nearly 300 impacted families and individuals were referred to Doorways of Northwest Florida and another local nonprofit to receive continued support. At the same time, Doorways of NWFL has been helping distribute CARES Act funding. This provides support to cover rent, mortgages, utilities, child and elder care, and food expenses for households that lost income due to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, in the USVI, the St. John Community Foundation's disaster case management team identified 31 more homes that won’t be repaired under any government program. Organizations like theirs can help fill the gaps, but some residents have had to move on, leaving their homes and the islands behind. Others are still living in tents awaiting a better future. Due to pandemic lockdowns and the limited open hours of the permitting office, the work of reconstructing homes has slowed. Some home projects have been finished though.

One senior citizen, “JN,” moved into her fully rebuilt home a couple of months ago, thanks to the work of St. John Community Foundation. The community came together and donated four pallets of concrete blocks for the walls. Donations from individuals helped hire the labor to build the walls, install windows and doors, and pour a strong hurricane ready concrete roof.

The communities supported by the Island Spirit Fund have suffered setbacks that drive home how important it is to adapt. Bayou City Waterkeeper is working with—rather than against—nature for long-term resilience. Doorways of Northwest Florida is guiding their clients amid three states of emergency (two natural disasters and a pandemic). St. John Community Foundation is figuring out how to build homes with more paid labor while volunteers are unavailable.

Flexible funding from donors like you give these organizations the freedom to invest their time and resources where they are needed most. Thank you for listening to and being part of their stories.

Bayou City Waterkeeper supports this wetland
Bayou City Waterkeeper supports this wetland
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La Marana gathers leaders in Carolina, Puerto Rico
La Marana gathers leaders in Carolina, Puerto Rico

For the past few months, our new partner Protectores de Cuencas in Puerto Rico has been hard at work planting trees to restore land in the Guanica State Forest, especially coastal areas that are prone to erosion and areas burned in wildfires. They've been able to purchase a water truck and pickup trucks so that they can water, weed, and maintain more than 13 acres of reforested land. These tools are essential, as new trees need to be watered as many as 17 times per month!

Meanwhile, in the Houston, TX area, another new partner, Bayou City Waterkeeper, has used their donations to work with local government and community members to protect 269 acres of wetlands, convene decisionmakers, hold community meetings, and conduct training. By protecting wetlands, communities will be less vulnerable to flooding like what was seen in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Our long-time partners continue their important work, as well. For example:

  • La Maraña invited community leaders in Carolina, in northeast Puerto Rico, to imagine what a just recovery would look like. They also openedthree water stations and a community well in eastern Puerto Rico so that access to clean water is available even if weathering future storms.
  • The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands has funded the removal of 260 cubic yards of hurricane debris from the shorelines and roadways of Coral Bay on St. John to date. That’s the equivalent of more than seven school buses! They’ve also worked with a local university to recycle glass into sandbags, to offer flood protection to residents and businesses.
  • The St. John Long-Term Recovery Group has experienced setbacks in their work rebuilding homes destroyed by the hurricanes since COVID-19 reached the island. They had to pause home reconstruction for vulnerable senior residents and experienced delays in construction permits and supply shipments due to COVID-19 precautions. Over the summer, they began to resume work, with socially distancing, portable hand washing stations, and masks for construction crew members.
  • For months, Doorways of NWFL had to close their Community Resource Center in Panama City, FL due to COVID-19, but they fielded thousands of calls for assistance. Last month, they reopened the center with safety protocols in place and delivered food to homebound and high-risk residents with the help of volunteers.

Whether reforesting land, protecting wetlands, envisioning future recovery, giving clean water access, removing debris, offering flood protection, or delivering food, these organizations are doing essential work. Thank you for your generous support to the Island Spirit Fund that helps it all happen.

Protectores de Cuenca cares for young trees
Protectores de Cuenca cares for young trees
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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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