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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
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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A family picks up trees to plant at their farm
A family picks up trees to plant at their farm

Thanks to your generous support, the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands are able to invest in the sustainability of their natural environment. Island Spirit Fund partner Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) has been busy funding environmental restoration with two local organizations, the University of the Virgin Islands and St. Croix Environmental Association. Your donations are improving coastal ecosystems with the introduction of can and bottle recycling and the planting of native trees.

The University of the Virgin Islands was able to secure additional funding to expand their recycling pilot project, allowing the initiative to be rolled out to both the St. Thomas and St. Croix campuses. Before the recycling bins and materials are placed around the campuses, the project leaders have been hosting awareness events. When the bins are installed, the work won’t quite be over, as the leaders of the project see a significant need for education around recycling—both on the importance of recycling and about the proper way to recycle various items.

St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA) is planting native trees on their home island. The trees play an important role in hurricane recovery and in restoring an ecosystem that can better withstand future storms:

  • Native trees are adapted to withstand the impacts of and recover from hurricanes.
  • The root systems of native trees are adapted to holding soil in place, keeping it on land rather than washing into the ocean and hurting coastal ecosystems.
  • These trees also host native pollinators, such as bees, hummingbirds, and bats—all of which are essential to forest recovery and the production of fruits, an important food source for the island’s humans and wildlife alike.

Thanks to generous discounts provided by the sellers, 310 trees were able to be purchased, exceeding the initial goal of 250. Of these trees, about half were given away at community events and the other half were planted by volunteers. Nearly 50 volunteers of all ages helped the relief effort by planting trees at a coastal reserve near an old tower that is home to several hundred cave bats.

Learn more about both these programs in the Community Foundation for the Virgin Islands’ project reports.

We love being able to share these stories from the field. Check your inbox in the coming months for updates on the progress of Island Spirit Fund partner organizations!

Tree planting at the coastal reserve
Tree planting at the coastal reserve
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St. Croix LTRG - Senior resident receives roof
St. Croix LTRG - Senior resident receives roof

Our partners in the U.S. Virgin Islands are in it for the long haul, helping fill in the gaps and helping ensure that even the most vulnerable in the community recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Some survivors affected by the hurricanes are ineligible for government disaster aid programs or will continue to have unmet needs even after receiving the maximum amount of help from the disaster recovery programs. This is where recovery group, like the St. Croix Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG), come in. LTRGs are locally based teams committed to seeing the islands through to full recovery. The groups are helping Virgin Islanders remove debris, feed their families, and make repairs to their homes.

“The mission of the St. Croix LTRG is to help members independently provide community services on a daily basis and provide effective relief and recovery services to people affected by disaster on the island of St. Croix,” said Pastor Gary Moore, chairperson of the St. Croix LTRG.

“As we transition from the emergency response phase of the disasters to long-term recovery, it is important that we come together as community leaders to communicate, cooperate, coordinate and collaborate for a more sustainable and resilient future for our entire St. Croix community.”

What does long-term recovery look like in action? An example comes from the Resilient Housing Initiative of the St. John Long-Term Recovery Team. The group recently finished refurbishing the house of a retired school teacher who designed the home with her late husband. She had been staying with her daughter in the U.S. mainland since the storms. She returned to St. John when her home was rebuilt and members of the recovery group went to visit her. She stood with tears in her eyes as she looked silently over the newly constructed home.

The group had restored the home with a reinforced ceiling, safety grab bars in the shower, and like-new furnishings donated from a villa owner. She looked around at her once beautifully terraced gardens and remarked how excited she was to work in them again. Hillary Bonner, the group’s Director of Operations says, “She hugged each of us as we left, expressing her gratitude and giving thanks for all that had been done for her. We were just grateful she was able to be back in her home and returning to a ‘new’ type of normal.”

Thank you for your part in supporting full recovery on the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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