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USVI Community Pulse

St. John Residents Voice Concerns Over National Park Service Actions at Town Hall Meeting

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A recent town hall meeting in St. John, hosted by Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, initially intended to discuss HR 3025, a draft bill to limit the expansion of National Parks, shifted focus to a longstanding dispute over land ownership and rights. Residents voiced their frustrations and experiences with the National Park Service, highlighting issues of land ownership, high taxation, and what they perceive as unfair practices.

The bill, HR 3025, was introduced by Ms. Plaskett to address the expanding boundaries of the National Park, which she and many locals believe has reached an unsustainable size. However, residents like Pam Gaffin, a 30-year inhabitant of St. John, expressed doubts about the bill’s effectiveness, citing uncertainties over the actual boundaries of the park.

Lorelei Monsanto and others raised allegations of land theft by the National Park Service, with Monsanto stating that her family had to resort to legal action to reclaim some of their land. Similarly, Raymond Roberts, a fifth-generation St. John resident, shared his ongoing legal battle with the NPS over ancestral land.

Abigail Hendricks highlighted the issue of increased property taxes and restricted land access within the park’s boundaries, sparking significant support from the audience. Her concerns underscored a growing sentiment among the locals about the invasive nature of the park’s administration.

Kurt Marsh, another local, called for a solution-focused approach, suggesting the formation of a task force to assist families in legal matters against the NPS. He highlighted the disparity in tax assessments between private landowners and the National Park, pointing out the inequity in the system.

The meeting revealed deep-rooted mistrust and dissatisfaction among St. John residents toward the National Park Service, with many fearing the potential spread of these issues to other islands like St. Thomas and St. Croix. The residents’ concerns reflect a six-decade history of perceived unfair treatment by the National Park Service.

Despite these challenges, Congresswoman Plaskett remains committed to advancing HR 3025 and addressing the community’s concerns, acknowledging the passion and pain of the residents. Without Senate representation for the USVI, she faces the task of garnering support from allies to move the bill forward.

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USVI Community Pulse

A Culinary Celebration for a Cause: UVI’s Afternoon on the Green

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The University of the Virgin Islands announces the return of its cherished annual fundraiser, “Afternoon on the Green,” set against the picturesque backdrop of the Herman E. Moore Golf Course in St. Thomas. This hallmark event, scheduled for March 17 from noon to 5:00 p.m., is themed “Fusion of Flavors to Savor and Explore.” It extends an open invitation to the island’s gastronomic talents to showcase their finest creations, all in support of a worthy cause. Proceeds will benefit the Edward Thomas Volunteer Scholarship Fund, aimed at assisting local students who are dedicated to community service.

Event Planning Committee Chair, Dr. Kyza A. Callwood, is thrilled about the community’s engagement. “Afternoon on the Green represents a prime opportunity for community members to engage in a meaningful cause, enhancing student lives through their participation. The overwhelming support from sponsors, volunteers, and culinary participants plays a pivotal role in the event’s enduring success,” he remarked.

In tribute to Edward Thomas, Sr., a venerated local entrepreneur and former Chair of the UVI Research & Technology Park Board, the scholarship fund named in his honor annually awards scholarships to two meritorious St. Thomas high school seniors seeking to further their education at UVI.

This year, the event is casting a wide net, inviting eateries, catering services, culinary professionals, and amateur chefs alike to donate their signature dishes, sweets, and traditional beverages. A highlight of the event will be the culinary contest, where the most favored entries in various categories will win prizes, including a portable MiFi device and a year of service courtesy of VIYA for the top honoree. Moreover, all contributing chefs will receive an Afternoon on the Green apron in recognition of their valuable contribution. The deadline to sign up as a cook is March 13.

Beyond the gastronomic delights, attendees can anticipate an array of live entertainment featuring RVP Band and Shaw HP, as well as cultural exhibits and educational showcases. The day will also offer a plethora of family-oriented activities, such as face painting, Carnival costume crafting, and traditional games. This year introduces a new best-dressed and best hat contest to the mix, promising additional excitement. “We eagerly await the community’s presence. And remember, it’s also St. Patrick’s Day, so wearing green is part of the fun,” added Dr. Callwood.

With generous backing from sponsors like VIYA, VI Council on the Arts, and Firstbank, the event is set to be a day of joy, unity, and philanthropy.

Those interested in participating as a cook, volunteering, or entering the best-dressed and hat competition are encouraged to visit aog.uvi.edu or contact (340) 693-1047 for more information. It’s important to note that vending is not permitted during the event, which is focused on fostering community support and generosity.

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USVI Community Pulse

St. Thomas Native Major General Jeth Rey Honored at Prestigious Black Engineer Awards

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At the 38th annual Becoming Everything You Are (BEYA) conference, celebrated in Baltimore, Maryland, Major General Jeth Rey, a distinguished figure within the Army Futures Command as the director of the Network Cross Functional Team, was honored with the 2024 Army Stars and Stripes award. This accolade is part of the conference, also known as the Black Engineer of the Year Awards, which is dedicated annually to recognizing excellence in Army engineering.

Originating from St. Thomas, MG Rey embarked on his illustrious Army career in 1983, initially enlisting as a Signal Soldier. His journey through military education is notable, first as an honor graduate from the Warrant Officer Candidate School in 1994, followed by his achievement as the Distinguished Honor Graduate from the Army’s Officer Candidate School in 1996. This path led him back to the Army Signal Corps, where his military career commenced.

Reflecting on his ascent through the ranks, MG Rey shared, “As a teenager, I was determined to shape my future. Engaging with the Navy JROTC before joining the Army, I was inspired by the ethos ‘Be all you can be.’ This mantra fueled my ambition over four decades, allowing me to pursue higher education, acquire specialized skills, and ascend to senior leadership roles.”

MG Rey’s academic accomplishments are as impressive as his military service, having earned three master’s degrees in telecommunications management and national security studies from the U.S. Naval War College, and in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College.

Following his award recognition at the BEYA conference on February 16, MG Rey expressed his gratitude and optimism for future generations. “The Army has opened a world of endless possibilities for me, and I firmly believe that today’s youth are positioned to seize even greater opportunities within the military. It’s a privilege to engage with young individuals eager to make a meaningful impact,” he stated.

The BEYA conference serves not only as a platform to honor distinguished individuals like MG Rey but also plays a crucial role in the Army’s outreach initiatives. These efforts are aimed at enhancing recruitment by attracting students with interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to explore career paths in the Army, whether in uniform or civilian roles.

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USVI Community Pulse

“Muffins with Mom” Event at St. Croix Educational Complex Strengthens Family Ties

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The St. Croix Educational Complex was abuzz with the spirit of family unity on February 14, as it hosted the heartfelt “Muffins with Mom” celebration. Mothers, students, PTA organizers, and school staff came together for an early morning gathering, blending the joy of shared meals with the strengthening of parent-student connections.

Between 7:00 and 7:40 a.m., the event offered a delightful breakfast of muffins and bush tea, creating an inviting atmosphere that fostered warmth and camaraderie among the attendees.

The air was filled with the soothing sounds of Gyasi Clarke, a gifted guitarist, whose music invited attendees to join in singing, further enhancing the celebratory mood. This musical interlude provided a perfect opportunity for mothers, students, and staff to immortalize the moment with photographs, capturing the essence of the occasion.

Under the leadership of Dynel Lang, the PTA president, the event highlighted the vital role of the Parent-Teacher Association in nurturing a sense of community within the school. A standout moment was the delivery of “A Nosey Poem” by faculty member Emmanuel, which cleverly used the acronym NOSEY to outline the key attributes parents need while guiding their teenagers—nurturing, observant, selfless, engaged, and youthful in spirit.

This special gathering did more than just celebrate the unique bond between mothers and their children; it underscored the critical role of parental involvement in the educational paths of the students, reinforcing the value of engagement and support within the school community.

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