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Enhancing Veteran Support: Highlights from the V.I. Veterans Advisory Council Meeting

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The Veterans Advisory Council of the Virgin Islands convened this Wednesday for its quarterly assembly, focusing on enhancing benefits, services, and the overall welfare of veterans. Chairperson Muria Nisbett led the discussion, unveiling several initiatives spearheaded by the Office of Veterans Affairs aimed at improving the lives of veterans in the territory.

A notable initiative is the introduction of a veteran discount program. This scheme enables veterans to avail discounts at participating local businesses simply by presenting a Virgin Islands driver’s license or ID card marked with a veteran designation. The council emphasized the importance of ensuring veterans are aware of how to obtain this enhanced ID, signaling a move towards greater recognition and appreciation of their service.

Addressing the critical issue of transportation for medical appointments, the council heard from veteran R. Phipps about the logistical challenges faced when traveling off-island, particularly from St. Croix to Puerto Rico. Phipps highlighted the stress of arranging last-minute travel and the difficulty of scheduling flights that align with appointment times. In response, Nisbett committed to collaborating with the Veterans Affairs Office to explore solutions, including the possibility of utilizing charter flights to better accommodate veterans’ travel needs.

The council also spotlighted upcoming events and resources aimed at supporting veterans. The imminent inauguration of a new Veterans Center in St. Thomas and the annual observance of Vietnam Veterans Day in March stand out as key moments to honor and engage with the veteran community. Additionally, Nisbett shared insights into the Wounded Warrior Project’s intensive outpatient treatment program for veterans struggling with PTSD, underscoring the council’s commitment to connecting veterans with vital mental health resources.

Vice-chair Kai Callwood dedicated a moment to honor the advocacy efforts of a late veteran who championed the creation of a veterans’ museum—a project that aims to preserve and celebrate the legacy of veterans in the Virgin Islands. Callwood pledged to pursue the realization of this museum, seeing it as a crucial step in honoring the service and sacrifices of veterans for generations to come.

The council is also seeking volunteers for a new initiative designed to support isolated, elderly veterans through regular visits, highlighting the community’s role in uplifting those who have served.

The next meeting, scheduled for May 15th, promises to further the council’s mission of addressing the needs and honoring the contributions of the Virgin Islands’ veteran community. This recent assembly marks a significant stride towards enhancing the support and recognition of veterans, ensuring their valor and sacrifices are acknowledged and celebrated.

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USVI Community Pulse

Service Disruption Affects Virgin Islands Department of Finance Vendor Portal

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The Virgin Islands Department of Finance (DOF) is currently facing a technical setback as its vendor portal remains inaccessible due to a service disruption. Users attempting to access the portal are met with a “Service Unavailable” message, specifically noting an “HTTP Error 503.”

The vendor portal, a critical component for facilitating transactions and communications between the DOF and its vendors, is essential for the seamless operation of financial services within the territory. This outage affects various stakeholders, including local businesses and contractors who rely on the portal for processing payments and managing financial interactions with the government.

For more detailed information and updates, please visit the DOF’s official website at http://dof.vi.gov.

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USVI Community Pulse

Virgin Islands Children’s Museum Launches Innovative LEGO Education Workshops

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Beginning on Easter Sunday, the Virgin Islands Children’s Museum (VICM) in St. Thomas will offer a unique educational opportunity for children aged eight to thirteen. The museum has scheduled a five-week LEGO workshop series, taking place every Sunday from 12 to 2 PM. This initiative encourages early registration due to limited availability.

The workshops, structured around LEGO Education Kits, are designed to enhance critical thinking and collaborative skills among participants. Through hands-on activities, children will explore concepts in engineering, data analysis, and communication. The LEGO kits incorporate elements of STEAM—science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics—connecting classroom learning to practical, real-world problems. This method allows children to progress at their own pace through various lessons.

LEGO’s journey over the past decade has been remarkable, rebounding from financial difficulties by capitalizing on core strengths and broadening its appeal. In an era dominated by digital gaming, LEGO has successfully integrated virtual elements into its products while maintaining the tactile, hands-on experience that fosters creativity and problem-solving skills. The origins of LEGO trace back to 1932, founded by Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen, echoing the enduring craftsmanship synonymous with Denmark, which is evident in many historical structures throughout the Virgin Islands.

Chantel Hoheb, the Executive Director of Operations and Development at VICM, emphasizes the transformative potential of these workshops. By providing access to costly LEGO kits and expert guidance, the museum offers children educational opportunities that might be unavailable in traditional school settings. Hoheb also highlights the importance of parental involvement in fostering and supporting their children’s interests, which is crucial for the development of local robotics programs and the advancement of students to competition levels.

The workshops will be conducted by Christopher Richardson and Peter Jean-Baptiste, two talented Virgin Islanders skilled in programming and technology, who have played a significant role in the creation of the LEGO workshops. Richardson, who previously competed in the FIRST Tech Robotics competitions in Atlanta, appreciates the chance to introduce local youth to engineering principles through LEGO kits.

The announcement of the workshop has sparked interest for similar programs catering to different age groups. The VICM plans to develop additional workshops, acknowledging the benefits of early exposure to engineering concepts. Meanwhile, the museum ensures an inclusive environment where prior experience with LEGO or coding is not required, welcoming students of all skill levels.

Thanks to substantial support from donors and collaborative efforts with local institutions like the University of the Virgin Islands, the museum has secured essential resources, keeping participation costs low and fostering a supportive community for the burgeoning student Robotics clubs.

For registration and further details, visit the VICM’s website at www.vichildrensmuseum.org or contact them at [email protected]. Follow their social media platforms on Facebook and Instagram @vichildrensmuseum for updates and more information. The Virgin Islands Children’s Museum, a non-profit organization, continues to dedicate its efforts to create an engaging learning environment that cultivates a passion for knowledge through interactive play.

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Virgin Islands Community Acknowledged for Participation in Tsunami Preparedness Drill, Caribe Wave 2024

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The Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) has expressed its gratitude to the community for their active participation in the territory-wide tsunami drill, Caribe Wave, which occurred on Thursday, March 21, 2024. This exercise is part of the annual tsunami preparedness activities coordinated by the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Tsunami and Other Coastal Hazards Warning System for the Caribbean and Adjacent Regions (ICG/CARIBE-EWS) under UNESCO’s Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

This year’s drill involved over 23,000 individuals who practiced the “drop, cover, and hold on” maneuvers and participated in evacuation procedures starting at 11:00am. The exercise included a simulation where test alerts were sent out, marking the beginning of a four-hour period during which VITEMA activated its Emergency Operation Centers (EOC) on St. Croix and St. John. The scenario was designed to reflect the aftermath of significant damage to the St. Thomas EOC caused by a tsunami wave.

Bruce Kelly, VITEMA’s Deputy Director for Operations, highlighted the collaborative effort, noting that “at least a dozen different agencies and departments were involved, which helped us to engage in a comprehensive evaluation of our territorial emergency operations plan despite potential major damages.”

The drill was a response to the historical precedence of a tsunami in 1867, with oceanographic experts warning of the inevitability of another such event. Regina Browne, VITEMA’s Deputy Director of Planning and Preparedness, stressed the importance of regular practice and awareness. “Preparedness is crucial,” she remarked. “It’s essential for every resident to know their evacuation zone and have a plan in place. Our division remains committed to providing education and outreach to ensure that everyone knows how to respond when a tsunami warning is issued.”

The agency also acknowledged the support of numerous local agencies and organizations, including FEMA, VI Fire and Emergency Medical Services, the Department of Human Services, and many others. Additionally, contributions from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu and the Puerto Rico Seismic Network were pivotal in providing realistic warning scenarios based on a simulated 8.7 magnitude earthquake from the Puerto Rico trench.

Plans for the 2025 Caribe Wave exercise are underway, with the specific dates to be announced later in the year. VITEMA continues to encourage the community’s involvement in these critical preparedness exercises, emphasizing the importance of readiness and effective response to natural disasters.

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